Lieutenant Colonel Gavin Ware says the time he spent helping the Philippines defend its sovereignty against terrorists and Islamic extremists in 2018 and 2019 has helped make Australia a safer place for his wife and two children.
The Duntroon graduate was just one of more than 7000 Australian Defence Force members who served abroad in 2018.
He was the commander of Joint Task Group 629; the unit tasked with delivering an urban close combat training course as part of Operation Augury-Philippines.
Colonel Ware said a safe regional environment, characterised by fundamentals such as the rule of law and freedom of navigation, were essential for a safe Australia.
"We are doing our part with our friends and neighbours to achieve that," he said. "Terrorist groups don't acknowledge national boundaries and borders. The waterways, the air and the ground within our region are the source of our prosperity. It's important we stand together, whether in the Philippines or anywhere else".
Taskforce 629 worked closely with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) veterans who had taken part in some of the fiercest fighting seen in the region since the end of World War II. It was tasked with providing targeted training requested by the Philippines government in the wake of the battle to retake Marawi the previous year.
"In 2017 ISIS in the Philippines, which included Abu Sayyaf, the Maute Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and others took Marawi, a city of about 250,000 people in western Mindanao. This led to a siege which lasted about five months. The AFP, supported by other nations including Australians, were able to liberate the city in about 2017."
More than a thousand people were killed. A year later tens of thousands were still waiting to return to their shattered homes. It was, for a space, about the closest thing to hell on earth.
"The concentration of lethality and violence led to about 200,000 people being displaced. The fighting was from door-to-door and room-to-room for a five-month period. Stalingrad (in World War II) would be a pretty good example," Colonel Ware said.
Colonel Ware and his troops were charged with providing training specifically requested by the Philippines government in the wake of the siege.
"Our training program was based on reviews done by the armed forces of the Philippines post the conflict on gaps in their capabilities," he said. "We've been able to train more than 10,000 people so far."
Specific areas included urban warfare, maritime security and air operations.
While many of the AFP members had extensive combat experience in an urban environment it was recognised foundation skills, such as combat shooting, urban movement and breaching and searching buildings could be improved.
"A lot of our soldiers conducting the land training aren't necessarily veterans of the Middle East. They are, however, the product of an institution that learns from its experiences," Colonel Ware said. "We've been able to take the hard learnt lessons of the past few decades and feed them back into training.
"Their counterpart is a 19 or 20 year old infantryman from the 6th Division in Cotabato City who fought for five months in Marawi, who doesn't come from a training system that has the same degree of output development but has experiences his 19-year-old Australian counterpart hopefully never has to experience."
Colonel Ware said the AFP was an operational organisation that was almost constantly deployed and had to take the opportunity to train when it could.
He was constantly surprised and impressed by the ingenuity AFP members showed in coming up with solutions in a resource poor environment.
"Working out what will work for them is an important part of the relationship. We have to know what they have and what they can do in order to offer solutions they can use."
The training program would not have been the success it was without a strong "mil to mil" relationship between the ADF and the AFP.
"It was built off the back of a defence cooperation program that has been running with the Philippines for a number of decades and on the back of the relationship established with the humanitarian aid mission from the time of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The co-operation program and the education of their senior leadership is one area that is really important."
Another key element was the strong rapport, based on mutual respect, that quickly developed between the Australian and Filipino troops.
"One of the most rewarding parts of the task was seeing our people and their Filipino counterparts and how well they got along," Colonel Ware said. "One of the things we work hard to instil is of coming from a position of being a partner; of being committed to mutual learning and working towards a common goal.
"We need to ensure we are not dictating what we think they need but that we are working with them to improve their capability on their own terms."
As of December 1 Operation Augury will transition into an "enhanced defence cooperation program", providing long-term support from Australia to the AFP in its fight against terrorism.