As a teenager growing up in Brisbane, Ben Russell always knew he wanted to join the military.
What he didn’t know was that decision would lead to multiple deployments around the world, on both humanitarian assistance missions and operational duties in locations, such as Timor Leste, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Now 35 years old, Sergeant Ben Russell of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is a loadmaster on board a C-17A Globemaster and is currently providing a critical transport capability as part of the international recovery and investigation effort for downed aircraft MH17.
Ben, who is working from Eindhoven Airfield in the Netherlands, says it has been one of the toughest but most important missions of his career.
"I mentally prepared myself on the transit over, I think we all did," he said.
"I was aware of the type of things we were going to see.
"I will say this; it will be a deployment that I’ll never, ever forget, especially given how the international community has come together to try and make the best of this tragic situation and give the victims of MH17 the dignity and respect they deserve."
As a RAAF loadmaster, SGT Russell supervises and assists in the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers. In this case, he and the rest of the RAAF team pack essential supplies and equipment at Eindhoven and following a three hour flight to the Ukraine, unload the cargo at Kharkiv International Airport.
It is a difficult, labour intensive job but one which he has worked towards his entire career.
"I always wanted to serve my country and originally I did that working as an air dispatcher in the Australian Army but I saw the RAAF loadmasters in action and realised that’s what I wanted to do," Ben said.
"As a loadmaster you see a lot of the world, sometimes under good circumstances, sometimes not. I have travelled to many exotic places and I have definitely witnessed more than the average soldier, sailor or airmen but I have also spent a lot of time away from my family."
Ben's wife Samantha and his three young children; Natalie 12, Sophie 7 and Tom, 5, who live in Brisbane, find his absences difficult, but he says quality time at home takes precedent whenever he's in Australia.
"During the summer months we spend a lot of time on the beach and travelling around the coast. It's all about spending time with the family, watching soccer games and participating wherever I can," Ben said.