Tonight is the Aussie Heroes Christmas Dinner. One of our guests, Commander Terry Morrison, is the Captain of HMAS Darwin, our most recently deployed ship. Terry has agreed to say a few words about the impact Aussie Heroes had on his crew during their deployment. He has been kind enough to provide me with a written version so that I can post this in time for those of you who cannot attend tonight so that you can read it around the same time as we are hearing it.
We also received a message from the Chaplain of HMAS Toowoomba. HMAS Toowoomba is still on deployment but with only a couple of weeks left to go I am pleased to say they will be home in time for Christmas.
How does one possibly describe the affect that Aussie Hero Quilts has on a ship deployed to the Middle East Region. I have often thought that it would be great if there could be some kind of morale monitor that captured those moments when people felt valued and appreciated for their efforts. There is a book out called "Have you filled a bucket today" and it is all about taking those opportunities to speak words of encouragement or to do acts of service for people. You fill other peoples buckets and then in return your bucket is filled. Its a lovely book with a great message. Aussie Hero Quilts must have a bucket that is overflowing. The number of times that I met sailors and officers, following a mail drop, that had just received a quilt or a laundry bag is beyond belief. I have been invited into messes and cabins on a regular basis to see the fine handiwork of your quilters. They all are overjoyed and touched by the amount of effort and skill and most importantly time that has gone into their gift. On one occasion a sailor sought me out to come and see his quilt and said to me 'it has everything that I asked for on it and I will never put it on a bed, my wife is going to love it and we are going to hang in a prominent place in the house' and then he said, and I have heard this often from others ' this is the best part of this entire deployment - it makes it all worth it.'
One other thing that I would like to mention, regarding the laundry bags. Every morning I get up at 0400 and about every second or third day I proceed directly to the laundry to put my laundry or dhoby as we say in the Navy in. Outside the laundry there is a large square container that almost fills the compartment that has a number of bolts on top of it and along one side a rope has been fashioned with a number of large industrial safety pins. These bolt heads and the pins are used to hang dhoby bags on once they have passed through the laundry. Regularly all the bolts and pins are filled - almost 200 people doing laundry. So when you descend the ladder into that compartment prior to entering the laundry you are confronted with dozens of bags hanging all around this area, sometimes they are on the deck as there is no where left to hang them. After the laundry bags started arriving on the ship, the white fish-net bags started to be replaced with the AHQ bags. Only a few to begin with but as time went on more and more started to show up. Now it is a regular thing to pull someone's laundry out of the drier, look at the bag and say 'I know who that is... he likes surfing and Collingwood its ...'
Of course their are some who are using their quilts as well but most have boxed them up and are treasuring them for their return. Finally I would like to say a personal thank you to you Jan-Maree for your tenacity of purpose. There is a passion and a fire in you to do this that is rarely seen. It is wonderful and it has made my role onboard so much easier for me. Within a week of joining Toowoomba I had emails from just about everyone onboard requesting a quilt. They would meet me and introduce themselves. I attended every divisional meeting for the first month carrying a quilt reminding people that if they would like to have one made that they would have to email me with the particulars. It provided a reason for me to introduce myself and allowed me to start early creating relationships. As you are likely aware, the role of Chaplain is not often that well understood and in general some believe that you only talk to one when your in trouble or need a 'crutch to lean on'. Aussie Hero Quilts let me meet people in a different way and made my transition into the ship very smooth.
So again Jan-Maree thank you for all that you and your quilters are doing for us out here. Your making a huge difference and from all of us onboard to all of you there 'we salute you' and wish you and your families a safe and merry Christmas.
And finally, although they have not yet received even one quilt or laundry bag, HMAS Success has already welcomed Aussie Heroes. Caroline and I were welcomed by the then Captain, Captain Allison Norris for morning tea and then on the 23rd of November five of us were present as HMAS Success set sail.
The new commanding officer, Captain Justin Jones has also taken the time to write to us in honour of tonight's dinner.
I am sorry that you can't all be here tonight but I hope this goes some way to reassuring you that you all play an important part in the success that Aussie Heroes has achieved in the last 12 months in particular and in the last three years in total.
I will be taking lots of photos and will publish them next week.
Till then.....................keep spreading the word and happy stitching!
and lots of love from me, Jan-Maree xx