The family toll of defending foreign seas

By Justin Huntsdale

This Anzac Day, Chief Petty Officer Gary Pybus will be thinking of his ‘very beautiful wife and two great kids’ back at Nowra when he’s on board HMAS Toowoomba in the Middle East.

It will be almost two years away from home by the time he returns to the NSW South Coast in August.

“You just have to endure the marathon and do your best and then life will get back to normal – I’m looking forward to just being a dad again,” he said from a satellite phone.

First he was deployed to the ship’s base on Garden Island south of Fremantle in Western Australia, and then the Middle East.

And it’s not just the international phone line causing the pregnant pause when we ask him if he has family back home.

While we rightly remember the violent side of war on Anzac Day, there are more common family tragedies playing out on a daily basis with service people on duty overseas.

“We have a phone on board and wifi so things are much better these days [for keeping in touch with family],” Chief Pybus said.

“I’ve been posted to Western Australia since January last year, so it’ll be about 20 months by the time I get home and things get back to normal again.”

Such is the life of our troops – there is the well-known sacrifice for the country, but an equally as significant toll for a family.

The senior helicopter technician is on deployment until August, helping keep the ship’s aircraft functioning.

HMAS Toowoomba is targeting piracy and weapons smuggling in the Middle East, and Chief Pybus says he and their allied forces are proving effective.

“There’s not a lot of activity because of the presence of the multinational forces here, and we’ve done a lot of searching and boardings.

“Piracy and weapons smugglers know what’s going on, and we just have to try and catch them.

“There’s a lot of nations up here we operate with – mainly Americans, Turks and Germans – everyone is having a go to keep the sea lanes open.”

He’s currently in the beautiful island of Seyschelles, 1500km east of Africa, but has also spent time in Muscat in Oman and Karachi in Pakistan alongside vessels from around the world.

“Because we work in a maritime environment there’s a lot of washing to keep the salt off the aircraft, so we work hard to keep it flying,” he said.

He says the food on board is ‘pretty good’ but it’s hard to keep fresh when you’re away from land for extended periods.

And despite being a chief, he’s still sharing a room with three other people.

That’s considered luxurious.

“I have a bit more room now I’m a chief – they try and look after us old buggers and Toowoomba is only seven years old so it’s still in a good state.”

For more stories on Anzac Day, head to the ABC’s¬†Anzac Day homepage.


Original Article