Thursday, 15 December 2016

For those who did not attend the functions in Canberra and Ballan.....

I/we have been doing this so long, and many of you have been around for a while, I usually assume that the majority of you know who I am, my history and the background behind why I founded Aussie Heroes.   It became evident, from feedback at both the Canberra dinner and the Ballan lunch, that maybe that is not the case. I suppose we have new people joining our ranks all the time so perhaps a little history lesson every now and then is not out of place. Also, many of you could not make it to either of the functions so might like to read some of what I wrote. 

Many people do not know the full extent of what we do.

Some of the stories I tell can't really be published on the blog because of privacy reasons but that which I can share and that which is relevant to a broader audience is below, edited to make it read more appropriately tonight. 

"We are coming to the end of our fifth year of operation and these dinners have become an Aussie Hero Tradition, providing an opportunity for those that sew for us, our Aussie Hero Friends to meet those that we sew for, our Aussie Heroes.  This is a rare opportunity for my Aussie Hero Friends to get a better understanding of the impact of their quilts and laundry bags on our deployed men and women, first hand.  

To the Aussie Hero Friends here, please take the opportunity to talk to the recipients who have come today.   I promise they already like you, sew for Aussie Heroes! 

For those of you who do not really know who I am...
I had the honour of serving as an officer for more than 15 years.  I spent 7 ½ years in the RAAF as an air traffic controller and a further 7 ½ years in the Navy as a communicator then Administration Officer.   

I married my husband, a RAAF engineer, while we were both serving and only resigned when our twin sons were born.  Those babies are now 20.  The odds of them making it to 21 are better some days than others!

My motivations for founding Aussie Heroes were many but boil down to three main reasons. 

Firstly, I am ashamed of the way our Vietnam Veterans were treated when they returned home.  We cannot ever let that happen again which is why our motto is “We care about the people, not the politics or the mission.”

Secondly, I wanted to find a way to let our troops know they are appreciated.  Servicemen and women are called on throughout their career to meet the nation’s needs and they answer the call regardless of the sacrifice they and their families must make.

Finally, I heard of a soldier in a rehab hospital.  My friend noticed his lovely red, white and blue quilt.  His wife explained that it was given to him by an American organisation as he lay critically wounded in hospital in Germany after a Blackhawk crash in Afghanistan in 2010.  If the Americans had not given our Australian soldier a quilt he would have been the only man in the ward without one.   I was very grateful for their generosity, but also ashamed that there was not a quilt for him from Australia.   That inspiring soldier, Garry, and his amazing wife, Katrina, attended our dinner in Canberra and have become good friends of mine and of Aussie Heroes.

As of last week, we have sent over 6600 quilts and over 13000 laundry bags to in all three services, including our defence civilians, on Operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.    

It is worth noting that Aussie Heroes is the only organisation, anywhere in the world, that looks after her nation’s deployed troops in this manner.  Many a time I receive feedback telling me that the other nations are envious of the quilts and laundry bags our Aussies receive.  That means I have achieved one of my goals, to create something special just for our Aussies. 

These days no wounded Australian serviceman should be without an Aussie Hero quilt as we have Wounded Warrior Quilts positioned in Kabul, Iraq and elsewhere specifically for this purpose.   In 2013 the CO of the Special Operations Task Group was able to return the favour, presenting an Aussie Wounded Warrior Quilt to an American soldier who was wounded whilst extracting some of our Aussies from a fight. 

Since July 2012 we have offered a Fallen Warrior Quilt to the family of every serviceman who has died in the line of Duty. 

So what have we achieved this year?  Some of these you will know about and some you won’t.

In the past we have provided quilts for the beds in the Medical Centre in AMAB and this year we provided quilts for the ANZAC Hospital in Iraq.  Four Aussie themed quilts went into the Grace Wilson Ward and four Kiwi themed quilts were sent to the Jacinda Baker Ward along with enough colourful pillowcases to see the end of the ugly issued ones in both wards.  

We also created an ANZAC Themed quilt to hang in the ANZAC hospital to add some more colour.

In July we sent 7 specially made quilts to brighten the previously bare walls of the chapel in Kabul.  These were a joint effort with blocks created all over the country then assembled and quilted in Sydney.   Fortunately, these were packed in the boot of my car for an exhibition the night my home was destroyed by fire. 

My recent trip to Perth gave me the opportunity to carry 18 quilts to give to the CEO of V360 Australia Ltd. which is a registered charity which conducts assertive outreach, raises awareness and provides ongoing support for homeless veterans throughout Australia.   Whenever the Simply 16 quilting machine is demonstrated at one of the many shows around Australia one of our quilts is used for practice. These are the quilts that we finish off for our friends at V360.  

Hundreds of laundry bags have made their way to Darwin and Cairns this year, enough for each sea-going sailor based there, as well as for at least two of the Army’s Security Units attached to them. More recently 180 laundry bags have made it to our submariners in the West with another 60 due to go in the New Year.   40 laundry bags were delivered to 37 Squadron at RAAF Base Richmond a couple of weeks ago, another 20 or so were delivered to a regiment at Holsworthy during a visit last week and another 30 will be be given to the Command Warrant Officer from Air Command tomorrow. 

We have achieved far more than I thought possible this year and who knows what we will achieve in the coming year.

I always tell volunteers that they will not really understand how much our efforts are appreciated until they meet a recipient, and they see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices or feel it in the warmth of their handshake or hug.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to give a huge thank you to all of those who sew for us and support us in any way.   Much like defence, Aussie Heroes is a big team, with many people working behind the scenes, as well as those who make the quilts and bags.  Everyone’s contribution is another step towards putting smile on the face of a serving member.   I believe we have the most amazing and dedicated volunteers and I am incredibly proud of them.

This has been one heck of a year.   As most of you know at 1 am on the 12th of June, almost exactly six months ago today, my son woke my husband and I to tell us that our house was full of smoke.  Ten minutes later the entire house was engulfed in flames.  We got out with our lives, our dogs and a car load of quilts.  As well as losing our home and most of the contents, I lost all of my Aussie Heroes infrastructure, resources and my laptop, with all my records on it.  I also lost just about all of my memorabilia from nearly five years of running Aussie Heroes. 

When the news broke of the destruction of my home the offers of support flowed in.   Some amazing support came from the quilting community, but the sheer volume of text messages, Facebook messages and comments, phone calls,  and emails from members of the defence community cannot adequately be put into words.    Few people will ever know the full extent of that support and it has not stopped. 
From all three services, all ranks and from all around the world, from recent recipients and from those from our first year, the support overwhelmed my husband and I.  People have told me that I have been resilient and strong.  For the recipients reading this I want you to know that when I look back on the last six months, it is not the sad charred remains of my home and lost treasures that I think of, it is those messages and gestures of support.  I struggle to feel anything but incredibly blessed and much of the strength and resilience I have has been drawn from the support of so many.   Thank you just does not seem enough."

If there is anything you would like to know about Aussie Heroes please do not hesitate to ask.  When you work as intensively on something as I do with Aussie Heroes it is easy to assume that people know as much as you do... I know that is not the case so if you have any questions.. just let me know.

Till next time.....  keep spreading the word and happy stitching!

Jan-Maree  xx

1 comment:

  1. Well done Jan Maree. Your story is a lovely one. I'm so happy you have had the support you need through your hard times. Keep spreading the word.