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Australian Defence personnel recalls the challenges of serving in Afghanistan

Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Shubhdeep Bhangu (right) with one of his mentees, Afghan Air Force Captain Mohammad Anwar. Source: Max Bree/Department of Defence

Flight Lieutenant Shubhdeep Singh Bhangu was deployed to Afghanistan with the Australian Defence Force as an Air to Ground Integration Advisor. He provided assistance to the Afghan Air Force to increase its capability in the area of conflict.

In November 2001, Australia joined the US-led coalition in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. At that stage, there was no indication that this would be Australia's longest war.

Around 300 ADF members from the navy, army, air force as well as and defence civilians are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Operation Highroad.

Flight Lieutenant Shubhdeep Singh Bhangu was among them when he joined Australian troops in Kabul recently.

“I stayed in Afghanistan for about six months. It was a very challenging environment to be in, but I felt proud that I was able to serve my country and provide back to the community,” Mr Bhangu told SBS Punjabi.

“I felt fortunate to have played a part in assisting the Afghan Air Force to increase its capability.”

“Being in Afghanistan was also special for me as I belong to the Sikh faith and Sikhs have a rich history in that part of the world. It was an absolute honour for me to serve over there and represent Australia.” 

Shubhdeep Singh Bhangu
Shubhdeep Singh Bhangu is currently serving as the Officer-in-Charge of Explosive Ordnance Disposal section in the RAAF.

Despite challenges, though, he says he was able to stay positive.

“I always looked at the bright side. Besides serving my nation and how I am able to assist in the peace process in the bigger picture. This not only helped me stay positive but also to do my assigned job properly," he said. 

“It is extremely challenging for the frontline soldiers. It is a conflict zone where you often see bomb blasts and numerous casualties. It is life versus death situation."   

Mr Bhangu is fluent in English, Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu. He says that his language capabilities helped him in performing his military duties during his deployment in Afghanistan.

“I benefitted from my language skills which meant I was able to continue the mission even though an interpreter was not available,” he said. 

Operation Highroad
Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Shubhdeep Bhangu (right) speaks with one of his mentees, Afghan Air Force Captain Mohammad Anwar (Photo Max Bree/Department of Defence).

He also describes many memorable moments from his time in Afghanistan.

“While serving in Afghanistan I developed a close working relationship with members of the Afghan Air Force and one of the officers who I advised on a regular basis also spoke Urdu which made things easier for our team as I was able to communicate with him directly without the need for an interpreter,” he said.

“I had the opportunity to work very closely with the US military and it was an honour to serve alongside them in an area of conflict.”

Afghan 'resilience'

“One thing I will never forget about my time in Afghanistan was the resilience of the Afghans, they have been facing war and terror for many years yet they manage to remain in high spirits.” 

Mr Bhangu says serving in the defence force could also be a challenging experience at a personal level.

“It was difficult to be away from home, especially I feel for my son who was less than two-years-old when I left.  He was excited to see me when I returned but it took him some time to adjust back.” 

Shubhdeep Singh Bhangu with his family in Sydney.

Mr Bhangu is now an Armament Engineering Officer currently serving as the Officer-in-Charge of Explosive Ordnance Disposal section in the RAAF.

He studied aeronautical engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy and was commissioned into the Air Force upon his graduation. 

He told SBS Punjabi that it was his childhood dream to work for the defence forces.  

“Since a young age, I was always interested in the military lifestyle and wanted to join the ADF, I was fortunate to be selected and have been in the Air Force for ten years now,” he said.

“Like all military training, it was hard and challenging, yet immensely fulfilling once completed.”

ADF's recruitment drive at the 2018 Australian Sikh Games at Sydney.

Mr Bhangu said that he is contacted by many young Indian Australians who want to join the defence forces.

“The ADF runs many info sessions to promote defence recruitment among culturally and linguistically diverse communities,” he adds. “I have seen recruitment activities at many Indian and Sikh cultural events, most recently I saw them happening at the Sikh Games in Sydney.”

“Recruitment is open to all and I encourage the youth in our community to consider a career in the ADF; it is challenging, rewarding and fulfilling.”

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