Narembeen born nursing officer, Lieutenant Sophie Dixon has two big passions in life – helping people and playing volleyball – and she was able to achieve both while deployed to Iraq on Operation Okra.
The Australian Army officer deployed part of Task Group Taji-7, a 400-strong Australian and New Zealand contingent providing training to members of the Iraqi Security Forces to help them defend, hold and stabilise areas liberated from Daesh.
The 23-year-old played a crucial role in maintaining the health of the Task Group and other Coalition members, working as a nurse at the Task Group Taji medical facility in the resuscitation bay, primary health care and the ward.
"You have the ability to stop someone from needing to be sent home" she said.
"If we treat someone early and fix that problem before it develops into something that requires them to be returned to Australia to get fixed, we get to keep our people here and they definitely have a more positive experience out of it, so I wanted to be a part of that."
The six month deployment at the Taji Military Complex, about 20 kilometres north of Baghdad, was Lieutenant Dixon's first deployment since joining the Australian Defence Force in 2013.
"I definitely didn't expect to deploy this early in my military career, so I've been really lucky in that respect, having only completed my initial military courses at the beginning of 2018" she said.
She also interacted with the local Iraqi Security Forces medical facility, mentoring their nurses and doctors, with the goal to empower the local facility to optimise the clinical care of its soldiers.
"I wanted to take what we learn at home in training, come overseas and use it to help look after people in need," she said.
To her surprise, the deployment also allowed her to continue with her other great passion.
"Volleyball is my sport, so it was amazing for me to be able to take something I love at home and still play it in Iraq" she said.
"We had five different countries playing in a game at once - Germans, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and the British. Everyone not just working together, but also making life long connections together as a team."
While Iraq is more than 10,000 kilometres away from her small home town of Narembeen, east of Perth, Lieutenant Dixon said there were some similar aspects.
"I pictured the hottest day in Narembeen and then turn up the degrees. We had a few days of 50 degrees; I've never experienced that before" she said.