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Josh McLaren - Holsworthy Barracks

An Army plumber from Holsworthy Barracks has made it home in time for Christmas after spending the past month in the Philippines helping with a disaster relief operation.

Sergeant Josh McLaren has been part of Operation Philippines Assist, which was the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) response to the devastating effects of Tropical Cyclone Haiyan.

Josh arrived back in Australia aboard the Navy transport ship HMAS Tobruk on December 17.

“Being home in time for Christmas has made it all worthwhile,” he said.

The Army plumber with the Holsworthy-based 17 Construction Squadron will enjoy the festive season with his family, after spending the past month fixing ruptured water-pipes and restoring drinking water to scores of family homes.

Josh said he played a small but important role repairing and upgrading the plumbing that was badly damaged by the cyclone.

“It feels really great to do help these people in their time of need as they struggle to get their lives in order,” he said.

“The locals have really appreciated our timely assistance.

“And for me personally it was awesome to be out working with plumbing tools again rather than being stuck in an office back home.”

One of the highlights of the clean-up operation for Josh was working with a group of Filipino soldiers to restore their supply of clean water.

“We had to make do with less supplies and equipment than what we are used to back home,” he said.

“But all the Filipino soldiers now have a water supply to their houses, which they didn’t have before we arrived to help them.”

Between November 28 and December 15, Australian Army engineers, with assistance from Navy sailors and in coordination with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff, cleaned-up and repaired 16 schools that were damaged by the cyclone.

Local officials said the efforts of the ADF allowed about 15,500 students to return to classes, once schools re-opened on 02 December.

Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Ash Power, said the return of HMAS Tobruk marked the drawdown of Australia’s response to the Philippine Government's request for assistance.

“This cyclone devastated parts of the Philippines and our people have contributed directly to assist their recovery and get their lives back to normal,” he said.

“I was also impressed with the work of the Army Recovery Support Force, from rebuilding schools and facilities, to clearing areas of debris.

“These soldiers have enabled children to return to a daily routine and allowed communities to begin rebuilding their lives.”