Gympie’s Kieran Righetti has never looked back after quitting his job as a toy store salesman and joining the Royal Australian Air Force.
Leading Air Craftsman Righetti joined the Air Force after completing Year 12 at Gympie State High School and is today serving in a Japan Maritime Defence Force warship in Southeast Asia as part of an international humanitarian assistance mission.
“Life is full of so many opportunities and surprises, if you just have the courage to go out and look for them,” he said.
Kieran, 24, joined the Air Force in 2008 after exploring an assortment of employment options including being an apprentice carpenter and shop assistant.
“I tried many different jobs but nothing really fitted me,” he said.
“But one day I was on-line when I found that the Air Force was looking for people.”
The Air Force personnel capability specialist from RAAF Williams in Victoria is one of nine Australians embarked in the JS Kunisaki, which is a Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ship spear-heading an international exercise called “Pacific Partnership”.
Kieran’s role on Pacific Partnership is to assist the Commander Australian Contingent, Lieutenant Colonel John Cronin, to compile daily situation reports for HQ Joint Operations Command, as well as helping with other administration tasks.
Kieran said the deployment to Viet Nam, Cambodia and the Philippines during May 27 to July 19 marks a number of important milestones.
“This is only the second time I have been overseas and it is certainly the first time I have been on any kind of warship, let alone a Japanese one,” he said.
“Pacific Partnership also marks the first time that Australian Defence Force personnel have served in a Japanese warship for such an important humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission.”
Kieran said he has enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside the other Pacific Partnership participants who include 259 military personnel from Japan and the US.
“Learning how the US and Japanese militaries operate while discovering Asian cultures has really fast-tracked my maturity,” he said.
Kieran’s adventure commenced when he flew from Sydney to Japan’s Yokosuka port, where he embarked in the 9,000-tonne OSUMI-class amphibious helicopter-carrier.
The ship took eight days to get from Japan to Viet Nam, where the 50 medics conducted training seminars for local doctors at the biggest and busiest hospitals in the port of Da Nang, while Kieran and other military personnel assisted an engineer project at a local orphanage.
“100 orphans in Da Nang city’s Tram Y Te Phuong Hoa Quy orphanage now have a better quality of life thanks to the refurbishment project conducted by 50 US Army Engineers and ADF personnel,” he said.
Kieran said they painted the walls of the orphanage, laid concrete floors and removed tons of rubbish in sweltering, 40-degree heat.
“We volunteered to help out with manual labour, but the real reward was playing games and laughing with the orphans, despite the language barrier,” he said.
“The highlight of the trip to Viet Nam was bringing as smile to the faces of the orphans, who have so little but need so much.”
Local officials praised the Australian and US military personnel for their hard work, saying they breathed new life into the orphanage which had fallen into a state of decay over the past 10-years.
Kieran and the Kunisaki departed Da Nang on June 15, and arrived in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville on June 19, where they are scheduled to conduct training seminars for hospital staff and clinics for people in need of medical care.
Kieran and the Kunisaki are scheduled to depart Sihanoukville on June 28, when they set sail for Tacloban, in the Philippines, and are expected to arrive on July 4, where the mission will further assist victims of super-typhoon Haiyan which killed 40,000 people in November 2013.
The annual Pacific Partnership series of exercises was conceived following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami as a way to improve the interoperability of the region’s military forces, governments, and humanitarian organisations during disaster relief operations.
The Indo-Asia-Pacific is in what scientists call the “Pacific Ring of Fire” – it is not about “if”, but when we will need to work collectively to combat disasters, so we are preparing in calm to respond in crisis.