When on the ground and dealing with the grisly aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Bay tsunami off the west coast of Sumatra, Georgeina Whelan experienced first-hand the awful and confronting sights faced by front-line responders.
It's an experience which should prepare her well for one of the biggest challenges in her new role as the commissioner of the ACT's Emergency Services Agency.
Beyond Blue's landmark national survey, Answering The Call, released late last year found that many emergency services workers do not realise they are struggling with mental health issues, and if they suspect they have an issue, 61 per cent avoid telling people about it.
The survey found that one in three emergency services workers - a cohort of police, firefighters and paramedics from across the country, including the ACT - experience high or very high levels of psychological distress from what they are exposed to in their workplace.
It's an issue which is right at the top of the agenda for the incoming commissioner, who wants to bring a renewed focus to the safety, training, health and wellbeing of Canberra's first responders.
"That important conversation is already happening in our organisation and now I've got the opportunity to build on it," she said.
Ms Whelan succeeds Dominic Lane, who had served in the commissioner's role since 2013. Mr Lane is now the new chief executive officer at South Australia's fire and emergency services commission.
"I'm fortunate in that before he left, Dominic [Lane] gave me the remit to look at how we can support our people who are experiencing these mental health issues, and develop a strategy across the organisation where we can build resilience and prevention at the front end, and properly support our people who are struggling," she said.
Ms Whelan is the former chief officer of the ACT State Emergency Service, and was elevated into the acting commissioner's role when Mr Lane resigned in April.
In her previous roles with the army, Ms Whelan was at the forefront of Australia's biggest disaster relief and humanitarian efforts. None were larger than the 2004 tsunami response, in which she ran the Anzac Field Hospital in Aceh.
Over eight weeks, Lieutenant-Colonel Whelan's medical team treated 3600 people and performed countless life-saving operations.
"My birthday is on December 27, and that's when I got the call that we would have to deploy," she said.
Within three days, she had her field hospital and the 150-strong team packed and ready for airlift.
Flying by helicopter over the immense devastation, where hundreds of thousands of people had lost their lives, was an experience which will never leave her.
"We couldn't get in to help for seven days and by then, with no food or water or power, people were in abject distress. It was just awful," she said.
"So there was a very powerful imperative for us to get in and help."
Her experience on the front line gives her a strong desire to get out from behind the desk and spend time with ESA's operational teams.
"Good leaders need to have a intimate knowledge of what issues their people on the ground are experiencing; feedback at the tactical level is very important," she said.