THERE is only one thing you can do when someone tries to fire at the helicopter you are flying in through war torn Iraq, according to the president of Bendigo's RSL.
"Hold on to your seat. And hope," Peter Swandale said.
Mr Swandale was describing one of the moments in 2006 when someone got a "lock" on a coalition helicopter he was hurtling through the Middle East on.
Sometimes he would have a headset on and would hear the pilots shouting as they "threw" their aircraft from side to side to escape the lock and any incoming projectiles during the many flights he took to criss-cross the region as the Australian Defence Force served its Iraq mission.
Mr Swandale made the comments during an interview about what drove him to devote so much of his time to returned servicemen and women, and what others could do to help the RSL be there for veterans.
While he got through his tour unscathed, others he knew did not.
A mortar attack on one colleague in particular would later drive Mr Swandale to help other veterans.
"They suffered physically and particularly mentally after that," he said.
"I saw that suffering and that sort of triggered me to ask myself what I could do to help him or other veterans."
The RSL is currently asking Bendigo's help in that work.
It urgently needs to raise funds for veterans through its annual Poppy Appeal and hopes people will donate online or at honesty boxes spread across the city.
The RSL is also asking businesses and organisations to display honesty boxes.
"To this day, right now, we have veterans who need support," Mr Swandale said.
Mr Swandale's own passion to help the RSL in its work was not only shaped by the cost borne by those he served with in the Middle East.
By the time he got in that helicopter in 2006 he had been around the military in one form or another for 25 years.
So when he joined his first Bendigo RSL committee in 2013 Mr Swandale had an insight into the role he could play with the institution.
"I felt I was capable of supporting veterans in the community," he said.
It is a different reason to what made Mr Swandale join the regular army.
"That was all about adventure. They asked me where I wanted to go and I said 'Anywhere. Furthest distance from Adelaide," he said.
Mr Swandale served throughout Australia, including in Bendigo where he drew on a printing apprenticeship to work at the military's survey unit at Fortuna Villa.
His story - particularly that regarding his overseas deployments - is one of how the Australian Defence Force has adapted to sweeping technological changes.
Mr Swandale was part of teams that made it possible for Australian peacekeepers and soldiers to make a difference during operations at the dawn of the new millennium.
The first deployment was to Bougainville in 2001.
There, 4000 Australians helped guarantee a truce following nine years of violent, destructive fighting between Papua New Guinea and separatists, which was followed four years later by a peace agreement.
Mr Swandale helped managed a 24/7 digital communication network connecting every peacekeeping site across the remote region.
He performed the same role in East Timor in 2003 to help keep the peace four years after a three-week wave of violence erupted following a vote for independence from Indonesia.
"The difference really was that East Timor was more of a conflict. We were there for a peacekeeping role but there was a higher threat both from Indonesia and local guerrillas," Mr Swandale said.
The pressure was even greater when he went to the Middle East, not only because it was a war zone but because the theatre of operation was so vast.
Mr Swandale helped run digital networks stretching across Iraq and into Qatar.
"It was huge, and you had all these partners (in the coalition) trying to talk to each other," he said.
"People don't appreciate how much it takes to run multiple layers of communication. And the challenge was to keep equipment going under the conditions.
"You had dust storms, heat, lots of rain at certain times and even freezing cold weather."
Challenges were compounded by terrain high tech equipment was taken into, which could be knocked around in vehicles.
"There was a lot of travelling to get in there and fix the issues as they popped up," Mr Swandale said.
No matter where he has been deployed, Mr Swandale said the bonds he has created with other service members are incredibly strong.
"Each of those operations that I went on formed a connection with people that to this day is very special," he said.
"We hear about that 'brothers and sisters in arms' bond that people developed in World War One and Two. That is real, it's absolutely real.
"They will never go."
Mr Swandale has now been president of the Bendigo RSL for two years, including through a COVID-19 pandemic that has left many veterans dealing with isolation, uncertainty and a new threat to their health.
"As a team - it's not me - it's fantastic that dedicated volunteers and staff who have done what we have been doing," he said.
"I've seen the hard work and great results of what happens when a group of people who come together to support each other."