Corporal Mitch Stevens started her Air Force career in 1986 as a Communications Operator and little did she think that one day she would come under fire, especially as a Peacekeeper.
Mitch Stevens was always very keen to serve Australia and had a compelling desire to serve as a Peacekeeper.
“In 1992, I begged my Squadron Leader in Tindal to serve under the blue beret in the Cambodia UN Peacekeeping mission,” CPL Stevens said.
“I wanted to be deployed to Cambodia, I wanted to serve my country. At last, I got deployed maintaining communications at Siem Reap.
“My job was my passion, I believed if you loved what you do, you can conquer every fear,” she said.
Like all Peacekeeping missions, danger is always nearby. Some of our peacekeepers have seen action and CPL Stevens is one of them.
“One night, a fateful nightshift in February, we were fired upon,” CPL Stevens said.
“Our radios were unable to contact the base at Phnom Penh, but eventually we got hold of another base and I explained we were taking incoming fire.
“I requested permission to return fire and that request was granted.
“We returned fire, and from that night until August that year, we continued to come under fire.
“Working the nightshift was intense and fear was very present for me. I realised it wasn’t the fear of returning fire, but the fear of taking a bullet and not seeing my family again,” she said.
As CPL Stevens had predicted, if you love what you do you can conquer fear. Just like each of the 350 000 Australians who have worn the Air Force uniform over the past 100 years, CPL Stevens has acquitted herself with distinction and earned the enduring respect of our fellow Australians.
“Working as a peacekeeper, wearing the UN blue beret in the Cambodia mission was the best and most rewarding experience I could have had as a woman in the military,” CPL Stevens said.
“Working with the diversity of soldiers from different cultures added an element of substantial value to that rewarding experience.
“On return to Australia I was seconded to a position as a flight steward, on our Special Purpose Aircraft, and got to see a lot of Australia and the world with domestic and international tasks transporting politicians and military personnel to their various destinations.
“Having never posted near to my family during my career I decided it was time to wrap up my Air Force career in 1999 and return home to reconnect with my own family.
“I had several postings within the RAAF, I enjoyed the camaraderie, feeling like I finally fitted because of the family atmosphere,” she said.
Australia has been actively involved in peace operations for over 70 years.
The Australian Peacekeeping tradition continues today, with Australian peacekeepers currently serving in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Middle East and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
CPL Stevens is one of thousands of Air Force members who have served in or supported peacekeeping missions since 1947. Their commitment and service will be honoured as part of Australian National Peacekeeper Day, Tuesday 14 September and as part of Centenary of Air Force commemorations throughout 2021.