As an Australian army nurse, Kylie Hasse has seen the best and worst of mankind.
She will never forget arriving in Afghanistan in 2012 as the regimental nursing officer with Mentoring Task Force 3.
“I just remember thinking how beautiful Afghanistan was,” she said.
“I guess I hadn’t really thought about what the landscape was going to look like too much, and there were these massive mountains. I have never seen bigger mountains in my life, and it was just really amazing to see the contrast between the green belts and the desert and the way in which the Afghans manipulated the water systems to cultivate the agriculture.
“At that time in Afghanistan, we had a lot of trauma coming through, and for me it was all about doing a good job. It was a massive team environment, and we all wanted the same outcome; to save as many lives as we could in what was a horrible situation.
“I was there when we had the Sorkh Bed incident – the ‘green-on-blue’ attack in which we had 10 Australian casualties – and it truly cements the fact that life definitely ends too soon for some people.”
As a young veteran, she believes it’s important for the Australian War Memorial to tell the stories of modern conflicts and those who have served and continue to serve. Her husband Tim Hawley also serves in the Army and she looks forward to the day that they can take their three-year-old daughter Audrey to see the new galleries at the Memorial.
“It’s our legacy, and it’s our stories,” she said.
“I’m constantly telling anyone that visits Canberra that they must visit the War Memorial, and allow a whole day because you’ll just be immersed in it. “It’s somewhere for us to formally pass on our stories so that the wider public can hear them, so that’s what it is for me; it’s sort of like that hub, that box where we can put all our stories in, and know where to go.
“Right now, it seems like they are still happening; it’s not like Anzac Day when we think of the actual beach landings, but one day we will be seen in the same light, and we’ll be able to look back and we’ll actually have a place where all those stories are held.
“And for me, I guess, it’s about the soldiers that we couldn’t save.”
For Kylie, being a nurse in the Australian army is particularly special.
She was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when she was just a few months old. Her grandparents had both served in the New Zealand army, but her family was surprised when she told them of her decision.
“I actually joined the army on a whim,” she said with a laugh. “I was at university, and someone came to one of our lectures to tell us about the army, and I thought, ‘Oh, I might do that,’ so I joined as a soldier first, and literally, from flash to bang, it would have been about a month, and I was on a bus to Kapooka to join the Reserves.”
She was studying nursing at Queensland University of Technology and trained as a technician in preventative medicine with the Army Reserve.
“You need to have two years’ graduate experience before you can join as a nurse in the army, so I did that, and then it was getting a bit out of hand with how much work I was doing for army,” she said, laughing once more.
“I was spending every spare moment with the army, and I thought, ‘Okay, it’s time to take the plunge,’ so I joined and in 2008, and I was commissioned as an officer.
“I didn’t ever think it was going to be a long-term thing, but I loved it and I’m still there.
“I was one of those teenagers that left school having no idea what I wanted to do; all I cared about at school was doing sport, so I kind of fell into nursing, and I loved it right from the start.
“I think it’s the people, mostly, and then the technical factor. I love that there’s so much critical thinking and problem-solving involved with it.
“Traditionally, everyone thinks that you just follow the doctor’s orders, but it’s not like that. You are taking all the facets of a patient – from what’s happening in their family life and their social aspect to what’s happening to them medically – and you are kind of like the glue that sticks it all together for the whole team. And that’s the best way that I can describe it.”
She is equally passionate about the army.
“No two days are the same,” she said. “It’s a really dynamic workplace, and it’s always interesting. I’m forever learning, and right now, my job is to manage careers so I’m still looking after people, but just in a different way by developing junior nurses and making sure they are getting all the experiences that they need across the army.”
Of particular importance to her was her time working with the Australian Aboriginal Community Assistance Program.
“We went up to a place called Mapoon in far north Queensland, and I just had a ball,” she said. “I loved working with the health workers up there and getting to know the whole community; it was just a really special time, and that really stood out for me.”
She was also part of the first Australian contingent to arrive in Iraq in 2014 as part of Operation Okra, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her work there.
During her six-month deployment, Kylie served as the health planner and senior nursing officer, responsible for teaching emergency medicine to soldiers and newly arrived medics.
“Iraq was a bit different,” she said. “There was nothing like the volume of trauma that I saw in Afghanistan. We also did a lot of training with the Iraqi forces and that was pretty special; I had a really special bond with the hospital there.
“I was training a whole lot of soldiers, and they were just so lovely. Towards the end, they decided they should give me a cooking lesson and we had so much fun. We made this big batch of chicken and flat-bread and then they showed me how they boiled their eggs and what they ate for breakfast.
“I’ll never forget their generosity. They made sure that I was never hungry. The first thing they would ask whenever I’d go to the hospital was, ‘When did you last eat?’ and if it wasn’t within what they thought was a suitable timeframe, then I would be fed.”
She still keeps in contact with people she worked with in Iraq and Afghanistan, and treasures a beautiful velvet dress that the hospital manager gave to her in Iraq to thank her for her work there.
“I’m proud to be an army nurse,” she said. “And I am proud of my service, but I just see it as my job; I was just doing my duty as a nurse.”