When dawn breaks over the waters of Moreton Bay on ANZAC Day, Navy veteran Martin Brooker will pause and remember those who have bravely served in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.
With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow over ANZAC Day for the past two years, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Brooker is looking forward to paying his respects at two services on the Redcliffe foreshore on April 25.
Commodore Brooker, who served in the Royal Australian Navy for 37 years, will also be speaking at the main service hosted by the Redcliffe RSL.
Speaking to Moreton Daily ahead of ANZAC Day, Commodore Brooker shares what the day means to him.
“ANZAC Day is about embracing all veterans and their service, as well as providing a place for their stories to be shared,” Commodore Brooker says.
“It’s a day where I certainly remember all Australians who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I asked myself one year, what unites us as Australians, and the answer is freedom. The sacrifices of those who have served our nation were all about maintaining freedom in this country, and it’s something we should never take for granted.
“Our freedom was hard won by the sacrifices made by Australians in a whole bunch of operations back to WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, and of course all that that have occurred since then.”
While he is lucky to be on Australian soil to mark the occasion, Commodore Brooker says we must not forget those who are still wearing the uniform overseas.
“It’s important to remember on this particular day there will be thousands of Australian service men and women on operations somewhere in the world,” he says.
“We also must remember that the military has continued to operate during COVID. They are still serving, still doing the job, and many have done that in trying and difficult circumstances.
“One of the roles of the Navy is to have a forward presence within our region, as well as deployments in the Middle East, and they have continued to do that in this time of COVID.
“This means they have pretty much been on the job all the time, with very little respite.”
Commodore Brooker enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy in 1978 when he was just a young boy.
“I joined the Navy at the age of 15-and-a-half, which you can’t do anymore,” he recalls.
“My operational service included the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Pacific. I travelled to the Middle East and Afghanistan twice.
“During my first round of service in the Middle East, I was in command of a ship - the HMAS Manoora – an amphibious ship that went over there to support the operations and bring back essential equipment.
“On return to Australia, we were immediately turned around and deployed to the Solomon Islands without a break.
“We were there for three-and-a-half months, not knowing when we would go home.
“The thoughts of not knowing when you will be going home can be quite challenging for those that serve because the length of an operation can often be undetermined.
“Being away from your family for long periods of time, that’s part of the sacrifice you make.”
For his efforts at sea, Commodore Brooker received a Commendation for Distinguished Service in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
He received the award for his leadership and performance in warlike operations as Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 633 on Operation Slipper from November 2012 to May 2013 in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
“I was there for six-and-a-half months and my role meant whenever the Commander was absent, I stepped into that role,” he recalls.
“There were over 2500 people deployed at that time in the Middle East and there were a number of situations that needed to be dealt with.
“While I was extremely honoured to receive that award, it is of course a team effort.”
Commodore Brooker also received a Conspicuous Service Cross for his command of the HMAS Manoora and Maritime Task Group during operations in the Solomon Islands.
The Australian Conspicuous Service Cross is awarded for outstanding devotion to duty or outstanding achievement in the application of exceptional skills, judgement or dedication, in non-warlike situations.
It is the first level award of the Conspicuous Service Decorations.
Commodore Brooker retired from active service seven years ago and moved to the Moreton Bay Region in December 2020.
Commodore Brooker says when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Centres in New York on September 11, 2001, it was in that moment he truly understood what it meant to serve your country.
“The night of 9/11 was my decisive moment, when I truly understood what service meant,” he says.
“I was the Commander responsible for fleet operations at the time.
“I got a call after 11pm from my boss who said, “I need you to go in to work”.
“I had seen the events unravel on TV, so I asked him what he wanted me to do.
“He said “I actually don’t know just yet, but we need to be responsive to whatever happens next”.
“I walked into Garden Island in Sydney that night and went OK, this is what service truly means. It is time to step up and deal with whatever comes next.”
Commodore Brooker believes service to your country doesn’t end once you are discharged.
Today, Commodore Brooker is in the Navy Reserve and is committed to teaching the next generation of officers and sailors.
“I still have the same rank and titles, but now my role is to support the development of leadership and culture in the Navy, which means supporting the next generation of leaders through a number of programs,” he says.
“I think it’s an important thing to do. Not only do veterans have an important contribution to make to the service, but they also have an important service back to the community.
“All veterans have something to offer in terms of their leadership experience and military service.”
In addition, Commodore Brooker is launching his own podcast called Frontline to Boardroom, where he will interview men and women who have served in the military about their leadership experiences and how they have applied those lessons to their life since transitioning from active duty to civilian life.
Every year on the 25th of April, hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders around the world gather at dawn on ANZAC Day.
ANZAC Day is a time for the community to come together to remember and recognise the service and sacrifice of members of the Australian Defence Force. Originally a commemoration of the landing of Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915, ANZAC Day is a public expression of gratitude and reflection which resonates to the present day.
For the first time in two years, the country will once again reunite around Cenotaphs, memorials, and clap as veterans make their way through the streets at marches - something veterans were denied in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
In Redcliffe, the Redcliffe RSL will host the following services:
Dawn March and Service
Mid-Morning Service and March
Outdoor Two-Up bar
You can also find a full list of ANZAC Day Services and Marches here.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."