Toowoomba-based Defence Community Relationship Officer (DCRO) with Defence Health, Debra Fairbanks-Smith, has moved with her Defence husband nine times over the past 18 years.
As a DCRO, Debra dedicates her time to the Defence community by providing sponsorship opportunities, organising Defence family events and supporting them with their health care.
Debra has always had an enormous regard for Defence. "Dad is a Vietnam Veteran, and both my grandfathers served. And of course, my husband, Michael, is an Aeronautical Engineer and has been serving in full-time Army for 27 years," she says proudly.
Her Defence story has seen her family posted to Townsville, Toowoomba, Clarksville Tennessee USA, Aix en Provence France, Adelaide and now back to Toowoomba, all the while maintaining her career with private health insurer, Defence Health – a winner for Employer of Choice in The Australian Business Awards 2018.
Question: What's it like to move 9 times in 18 years?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: We have been married 21 years and together for 24 years. We have also had two overseas postings so posting to a locality that we know makes our latest move a little easier. But moving on a regular basis is just what we know. It is challenging, it is tiring but it is also exciting and we are always open to the new adventure that awaits. However as our children are getting older it is becoming more difficult. Saying goodbye to friends and family is always the hardest part. Although, love it or hate it, social media definitely makes it easier for us to stay in touch.
Question: Can you tell us about your role as a Defence Community Relationship Officer (DCRO)?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: My role as the Defence Community Relationship Officer is very rewarding. I get to engage and represent a company that has the Defence community at the heart of its business. I build relationships with key stakeholders so that I can support them in their roles to help provide advice and information to Defence members and their families.
Question: What's a typical day like, for you?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: That is a difficult question to answer because I definitely don't have a typical day. Each day is very different. One day I could be meeting with high ranking military personnel to plan health and well-being information seminars and the next I could be at a Defence family event helping kid's plant succulents into freshly painted military boots.
Question: What inspired your passion for working in the Defence community?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: Definitely the people. It is a close knit community and everyone relates to each other because of their common bond and shared experiences. I am very much a people person and I enjoy and value the relationships that I build. Because this is a community that I have been a part of for over 24 years now, I have my own experiences to share. I am accepted quickly by those in the Defence community because I can relate and understand what they are or have been going through.
Question: Can you share with us, some of the experiences you've had whilst working within the Defence community?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: Gosh I have had so many different experiences it is hard to single out just a few. One was a trip up to Woomera when we were posted to Adelaide. Woomera is definitely a unique place and it was rewarding to see how my visit was appreciated from the community there. Also seeing firsthand the good things that are done by Defence community organisations is a rewarding experience. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some young youth leaders. They had all once been wards of Legacy, having lost a parent who had served in the Defence Force. They were all amazing young people who were now giving back to an organisation that had helped them when they needed it most.
I've seen people thrive and excel in the Defence community and in the life that they are making for themselves. But I have also seen the other side of how Defence life can ruin relationships, break families apart and bring the strongest people I know completely undone.
So most definitely it's the people that I meet and learning about their Defence story, whether good or bad, is the best experience. These people can be new to Defence life, or like myself, and been a partner for many years. They can be the mother or father of a new young serving member. They can be the people in the veteran community that have finished their service. They can also be in other organisations that are working hard to support the Defence community. Every person you met you learn something from.
Question: What has been the most challenging aspect of working within the Defence community?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: The most challenging aspect of working within Defence community is the posting cycle. I build relationships both personally and professionally and when people post out of an area or a position I need to re-establish myself with new people and start all over again. It's also difficult saying goodbye to people who you end up working quite closely with. The DCRO role is a remote position so the people I engage with in my region become my work colleagues and sometimes good friends. Saying goodbye is never easy.
Question: What's next for you?
Debra Fairbanks-Smith: We just moved in January so for the moment we are settling into our new routine of life in South East QLD. My family is close by for this posting and we are enjoying spending time with them. My Defence Health work has relocated with me to this posting which I am grateful for and I am busy establishing myself and my role with new stakeholders.
Interview by Brooke Hunter