FORMER South Gippsland resident Lieutenant Colonel Sharon Coates was recently awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross for her vital work during the 2019/20 bushfire season.

Lt-Col Coates grew up in the Leongatha area before moving to Melbourne after finishing her studies. She has served in the Army Reserves for more than 25 years.

At the height of Victoria’s horrific bushfires, she was based in East Gippsland for nine weeks and was the Commanding Officer of the 22nd Engineer Regiment.

The service cross was presented to Lt-Col Coates last month at Government House, as part of this year’s Australia Day Honours.

The cross is the highest recognition that can be received for outstanding dedication to duty in non-war like situations.

“Bairnsdale and Orbost is where I was based with my taskforce group,” she said.

“We did a variety of work up there from delivering fodder to stranded cattle, to delivering water and food to communities that were isolated and supporting the evacuation of people from Mallacoota.

“I felt very privileged and honoured to have been nominated by my senior command to get that (cross) because I felt that I went down there and did my job.”

Lt-Col Coates said her group also worked to deliver a temporary bridge into the Buchan Caves, which allowed Parks Victoria to reopen them.
“My job as commander of that task group was to work and coordinate our soldiers that were down there to assist in all those activities,” she said.

“I spent a lot of time at incident control centres in both Bairnsdale and Orbost, coordinating the work they needed.

“We were there as part of the call out of the Governor General; the call out of the Army Reserves was the first time they had been called out in Australia.

“At the height of supporting the community, there was about 700 soldiers down in the East Gippsland area supporting different activities.”

Despite the adrenaline-filled role she has in the Defence Force, some might not assume her to work as a senior development manager for Frasers Property Australia.

“I’m an engineer by background and it worked really well for me to go down there for the Army in my part-time role,” she said.

“It was an amazing experience and for me, it was really rewarding.

“I grew up in South Gippsland and I knew the area reasonably well, and there were some people from the Department of Agriculture who actually knew my parents.

“It was a real privilege to go down and help a community that I felt I had a real bond to.

“The local community were always so polite and grateful for anything the Defence did for them, and we were really pleased to support Australians in their time of need.”