It all began some months ago, when one of the people stationed at the Air Base came to pick up an Aussie Heroes quilt from Jan-Maree. She went back to base, and suggested to her commanding officer that the people of AHQ should be thanked for what they have done for the troops. The ball kept rolling to the top and gathered speed and enthusiasm and so the day was planned.
It was a very early start for me as it is a good 2 hour drive to Richmond from here. About 40 of us gathered at 8.30am in the car park where we were given security passes and then boarded a couple of buses, there to ferry us around all day, each with a lovely driver and an escort too.
After morning tea and an introductory chat & video in the air field's departure lounge, we got to visit the 1st Combat Communications unit. That was interesting seeing the radio, satellite and computer equipment used for the communications. There was a truck there all set up with comms equipment and a satellite dish on its roof which I enjoyed seeing. I guess it has to travel by air, all set up like that, when it is deployed. An interesting thought.
As we were listening to the presentation, I noticed that people in uniform were coming into the area, and at the conclusion of the talk, I turned around to see what was going on. I was impressed to see all the guys and girls who work in that area had come in to meet us, and there were dozens of them. It was lovely meeting a few of them and having a chat.
Next stop was to what has got to be an old Mess room, where we were to have lunch. During a lovely b-b-q lunch the Warrant Officer came to visit us and gave a very nice speech about how our quilts make a huge difference to the morale of the troops. We were all given a goodie bag full of all sorts of interesting things, and a military coin as well. That was so unexpected! Here’s me wanting to thank the RAAFies for their hospitality and for showing me their way of life, and they were giving me presents! The little teddy bear dressed as a pilot is now sitting as proud as can be on my bed with my other special toys (I forget sometimes that I am an adult. LOL)
Then we got to visit the Fire Section and climb all over a bright and shiny red fire engine. That was good fun. I had never been that close to a fire truck before, let alone such a bright shiny new one, so it was interesting poking around and discovering how all the equipment is used, but you wouldn’t make a fashion statement by wearing that fire gear! LOL. All the equipment on the truck was very hi tech, but there is no substitute for the huge manually operated tool which the Firey called the Jaws of Life, and which are used to prise people out of mangled cars. Those guys really do need that gym attached to their section. I don’t think I could have lifted that thing, let alone used it. To top off the fun a couple of ladies got a ride on one of the trucks, which proceeded to do a demo of it's siren and the hose to the rest of us. Thankfully far enough away that we weren't drenched by the stream of water.
Next stop was the dogs section. For me, that was quite intimidating, as the dogs are trained to attack and they sure tried to do that. I was dead pleased they were behind a strong chain fence! One of the handlers took his dog into a run to show us some of the training it had done, and besides jumping over things, and heeling on command etc., he showed us how the dog attacks on command. The poor girl who was the assistant handler nearly got knocked over when the dog lunged at her. If she had not worn protective gear, she would have really been seriously injured. A very brave soul indeed. It was quite awesome to see the dog switch instantly from savage attack mode to passive obedience and return to the handler instantly he was commanded, and then the obvious affection which the dog and handler shared.
Our last visit was to the 37 Squadron, where they had a Hercules to show us. Now most of the troops would have flown on one of those, and would not share my enthusiasm, but I thought it was great fun to clamber all over it, get in the cockpit and sit in the pilot's seat. There was a great view through the front, and the dials! There were so many of them!
In each location we were shown, the personnel had hung their own quilts and laundry bags. It was very special to see them, and doubly so when more than one of the recipients found the quilter who had made his/her quilt. Also special was the lovely lass who walked around the entire time she was with us, with her quilt wrapped around her. Another highlight was when I asked the Firey who proudly showed us his truck whether he had received a quilt. His whole face lit up, the grin from ear to ear split his face: "Oh yes! I got mine in Dubai. Its in the back of the car here with me now."
At the end of the day, we gathered again in the departure lounge. It was at this point that the people who had made the day happen and worked so hard to entertain us were given a special laundry bag as a thank you. An additional special end to the day was seeing a plane load of troops come in from deployment. We clapped each one on their way through the door. The surprise was that despite being exhausted from the flight, they had gathered at the rear of the lounge and clapped US out the door as we left!
Everywhere we went, we had service men & women come out to meet us, and it made the tour more personal. It really was lovely to chat to a few of them. And everywhere we went we heard how much our quilts and laundry bags were appreciated. I did know that, but somehow the visit showed me just how much it meant to someone on deployment, to receive a box. The visit really re-enforced in my mind the reasons I sew for AHQ. You beaver away behind a sewing machine week after week, send off the things you make into the great unknown, and often there is no email or letter of thanks. That is OK with me, but the day truly showed me that the time I spend making the quilts and bags is most appreciated, and the quilts are truly treasured.
If you are interested, Jan-Maree has posted a couple of posts with other people's impressions of the day here and here. Jan-Maree has had access to a few photos, which you can see on those posts.