Photography: Kim Blanza

Since the first deployment of Australian peacekeepers in 1947 to the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), Australian defence personnel, police and civilians have proudly served as peacekeepers, peacemakers and peacebuilders.

While peacekeeping operations vary enormously, many include maintaining peace during elections, observing ceasefires, standing between hostile armies and helping war-torn communities.

Turbulent times in Timor-Leste meant the call-up of thousands of Australian troops. One of them was Jamie Wolf.

Not long after he returned from a three-month deployment to Rifle Company Butterworth in Malaysia, Jamie packed his bags and headed to his next job.

Other than having solid military training and his army mates from 16th Air Defence Regiment alongside him, Jamie wasn’t sure what else to expect.

"It’s always one of those things you don’t know until you’re on the ground. For me, the expectation was it was going to be a trip where you had to rely on your mates to make sure we did the job that we were called away to do."

Jamie Wolf

A country in chaos

It was October 2006 and Jamie was one of approximately 1,800 Australian Defence Force personnel sent to support peace and stability in the troubled nation as part of Operation ASTUTE. Jamie was part of G Company 6RAR of the ANZAC Battle Group.

“It was one of those times that a country was in chaos and the local military and political figures were running interference and causing a lot of unrest. I think it was a natural thing that, as Australia had been there previously, Australia would get the call up to go over there and stabilise the country.”

An unfolding domestic security crisis saw widespread violence and civil unrest in the lead-up to the 2007 presidential election.

As Jamie stepped off the plane in the capital city of Dili, smoke haze and the smell of burning rubber enveloped him.

So did the intense heat and humidity.

“There were definitely times where the weather and conditions were challenging. There wasn’t a lot of time when you weren’t soaking wet from the sweat that was pouring off you.”

Jamie undertook asset protection duties of both buildings and individuals, including for the likes of then-Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta.

“We were fully kitted up from the time we arrived with body armour, ammunition, webbing, rifle. I was carrying the grenade launcher attachment on my F88, so that added a little more weight to it.”

Throughout his six-month deployment, Jamie’s days and nights were intense, lived in a state of heightened alertness and vigilance.

"It made sure you were looking after the bloke standing next to you who was your mate."

Jamie Wolf

Jamie recalls one precarious instance he was deployed in the middle of the night to form a roadblock, following concerns Alfredo Reinado, rebel leader and former East Timorese military commander, had made off with some weapons.

“One night, we were faced with locals setting fire to buildings and cars and it was our job to stop the unrest, which is pretty confronting, but we had a job to do, and we did it well.”

Breaking barriers and building bridges

As critical as patrols and pickets were, the ability to build a rapport with locals was just as important.

Breaking down language and cultural barriers and building a sense of trust in tense times often comes down to the international language of sport.

“We did many community-based things where we would drive for two hours and go play a game of soccer in a village that was way out in the sticks. You could really see what that brought to the locals. A crowd would gather, and they would all be laughing and enjoying their time.”

“We’d do that whenever we could: have a chat with the locals, buy some DVDs off a local guy, and little things like games of soccer and cricket definitely helped break the tension that was around at the time.”

Positive impact

While some personnel feel a sense of guilt leaving their deployment to return home, Jamie felt a degree of accomplishment and, in a way, closure.

By the time he wrapped up in May 2007, he could see the positive contributions the Australian Army had made.

At the start of his deployment the crime rate had been high, with incidents of violence and extreme damage to property, and Jamie and his company had been required to always wear the full complement of body armour. Yet a few days before their departure, they were finally able to remove their armour because the threat level had been downgraded.

Jamie’s homecoming was not only filled with a sense of relief, especially to be reunited with loved ones, but is also gave him a fresh perspective on life.

"I think going away and seeing the opposite end of what you deal with in Australia makes me very grateful for what I have in this great country."

Jamie Wolf

New chapter

For Jamie, the decision to discharge out of the army came around the same time as the end of his deployment.

Talking about his discharge and transition out of the army is, as Jamie said, “definitely a bit of an emotional subject.”

“You spend a lot of time away from home, and I felt the time was right to spend more time with my family and partner at the time, Sally – we’re now married. The decision wasn’t easy, but it was just something that I felt needed to happen for myself.”

At the same time, there was a degree of uncertainty that loomed.

“When I returned home it was a little unknown what I would do. We were trained soldiers, so to come home and try to find work in the civilian world was challenging.”

Jamie recounts being lucky enough to forge a successful career in retail operations and maintain his innate desire to help others, which was one of the driving factors behind enlisting.

Since his discharge from the military, Jamie has furthered his passion for giving back to the community, which he describes as “a direct result of being in the military and helping people”. His focus is primarily on raising money for veterans and their care following their service. Prior to this, he worked with Fencing for Fires to fundraise and provide support for the rebuilding of fences after the 2019/2020 bushfires.

A wood carving presented to Jamie Wolf after he completed the 96-kilometre Kokoda Memorial Walk and raised over $20,000 for veterans with his best mate.
A wood carving presented to Jamie Wolf after he completed the 96-kilometre Kokoda Memorial Walk and raised over $20,000 for veterans with his best mate.

Jamie, who admits he could only achieve this with great support from his father and others, was able to provide over a million dollars’ worth of materials and labour over three years.

“It was a get-in-and-get-the-job-done attitude, much like my deployments.”

Seeking help

Despite career success and positive impact on the community since his discharge, the initial transition into civilian life was not only fraught with uncertainty, but also a sense of despondency.

Even though he was filled with a sense of pride in continuing his family’s service legacy, serving his country and completing what he thought was a successful transition out of the army, Jamie hit rock bottom.

“I wasn’t sure what to do with myself and, even though I had a great family and a well-paid job, I was still struggling day-to-day to hit the mark.”

When Jamie’s father discharged after 22 years of service in the Australian Defence Force, he had contended with his own personal struggles. He channelled his journey into supporting other veterans and their families by becoming an RSL Advocate.

Jamie said it’s thanks to his father that he sought help from the RSL.

"I certainly wasn’t going out and seeking help directly for myself because you’re not used to having to do that; you’re used to just putting up and moving on. That was basically where I was at until Dad tapped me on the shoulder and said it might be time to come in and have a chat, seek some support to get some closure, or at least find some techniques to function day-to-day."

Jamie Wolf

At a challenging time in his life, Jamie felt welcomed, reassured, supported and connected to the services he needed.

“I think that the RSL offers myself and all my fellow brothers and sisters that served an ability to get help, and I think that’s the biggest thing that we need to drive. That’s where my passion comes in now knowing how it all connects and what the RSL does for the individual. It’s something people need to understand – the RSL is going to be there for them.”

Jamie now proudly serves as the Wodonga RSL Sub-Branch President.

“I’m proud to be able to continue supporting veterans and current serving personnel. If you’re struggling, reach out to your local RSL, we are here to support you and connect you with the brothers and sisters to help you through. We need to support each other”.