Tributes for AVM (Ret’d) Brent Espeland AM

Eulogy delivered by Air Commodore Christopher (Noddy) Sawade

“The following Eulogy focuses primarily on the Air Force career of Air Vice Marshal Brent Espeland AM. Brent positively influenced so many people in so many ways and it is hard to do him justice in such a short Eulogy (which Judy is very happy that I intend to deliver)

AVM (Ret’d) Brenton Jack Espeland) AMBrent Espeland was born in January 1948 some 2km from this Cathedral just down the road at Hindmarsh. He was bought up in West Croydon and educated at Woodville High School, graduating as dux 1965. His passion to fly led him to the Royal Australian Air Force Academy at Point Cook in 1966 and in 1969 he graduated as the Sword of Honour recipient - the highest award for achievement at the Academy. From the Academy he underwent pilot training on 69 Pilots Course and after graduation was posted to C130A conversion. It is important to mention at this stage that after his conversion course in June 1971 he married Judy – his childhood sweetheart in this very Cathedral. Judy was always a significant part of his Royal Australian Air Force career which spanned some 36 years and of course also of his subsequent career and retirement. To quote Forrest Gump, Brent and Judy went together like Peas and Carrots.

Brent’s first flying post at 36Squadron included operational service flying C130A Hercules in Vietnam - indeed he was the captain of the last Australian C130 out of Saigon in 1975. After C130s he trained as a flying instructor commencing a long involvement with the training world which began by instructing advanced student pilots on the MB326H Macchi jet trainer at 2FTS in RAAF Pearce WA. In 1977 his excellence as a flying instructor led to a posting to Central Flying School at RAAF East Sale in Victoria where he not only taught flying instructors, but became a member of the Roulettes aerobatic team, was promoted into the Chief Flying Instructor position and became Team Leader of the Roulettes in 1980 and 81 – We will hear more about the Roulettes and that era from Bob Graham shortly but as an example of how Brent influenced people in his life, during his time as Roulette One, another of the Team members, Dave Burley, had a son. The Burley’s named their son Brenton after Brent. Brenton Burley is currently serving in the Air Force as a bandsman – and he is the bugler at the service here today.

In 1981-82 Brent was selected to attend the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto Canada. On return to Australia in1983 he took up the post as Military Secretary and Comptroller to Governor General, Sir Ninian Stephen where, not only did he and Judy ensure the protocol and importance associated with Vice–Regal service was maintained but also the kangaroo population of Government House was well looked after! I was recently passed a story from AIRMSHL Jake Newham Ret’d. Jake wanted to pass on the fact that on his last formal call as CAS on the Governor-General, Sir Ninian said to him: “Jake, before we begin this conversation, I want to talk to you about this young Espeland. He has done a wonderful job; I haven’t had to worry about the running of the House, while he has been here. I just want you to know what a magnificent job he has done”. I guess that had some influence because in 1986 he returned to CFS this time promoted as the Commanding Officer where apart from commanding a very busy unit he was instrumental in the transition of the Pilatus PC9 turbo prop trainer into service as a replacement for the Macchi jet trainer – a task akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole but, as we know, Brent thrived on difficult challenges and the result has produced some of the best military pilots in the world over the past quarter of a century.

In 1989 he was again selected to represent Australia overseas as a student on the USAF Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. On return in 1990 he was appointed as the Director of the Air Power Studies Centre at RAAF Fairbairn in the ACT and the following year he was promoted and became the Commander of that Base and Commandant of the RAAF Staff College. A posting as the Director of Studies at the Australian College of Defence & Strategic Studies, in Canberra followed and in 1995 he was promoted and took up the post of Air Officer Commanding Training Command at RAAF Laverton in Victoria, responsible for the vital initial employment training of everyone who joined the Air Force and for their ongoing professional military education and training. More promotion followed and 1998 he became Deputy Chief of Air Force which he successfully endured until he was specially seconded to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet with the immense responsibility for the coordination of security and intelligence at the national level for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games – The games were, of course, a huge success both on and off the field and Brent was intimate to that success– through no fault of his own this was his final military appointment

While aviation was always a passion for Brent he also had a passion for sport. He participated in every sport he could at school and at the Air Force academy, was an excellent tennis player and loved his rugby. He even did a stint as a teenager holding the bag for Dad who was a bookmaker at the time. So it was no surprise that following his retirement from the Air Force in 2001, a second career followed with 10 years in senior sports administration at the Australian Sports Commission with a focus on the governance of national sporting organisations, sports science and medicine and the fight against drugs in sport.

Retiring from the Australian Sports Commission and returning to Adelaide in 2012 Brent worked tirelessly in support of many worthwhile causes. He was National President of the Australian Flying Corps and Royal Australian Air Force Association and both National and South Australian President of the Royal United Services Institute of Australia, a Director of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, a member of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Ex-Service Organisation Round Table, Chairman of The Board of Governors of The Repat Foundation, a board member of The Hospital Research Foundation, a member of the Air Force Heritage Advisory Committee and was especially pleased to serve as a member of the National Council of the Australian Air Force Cadets.

We will hear more of Brent’s service to the Air Force Association shortly from The National Vice President, Peter Colliver but I would also like to include on behalf of the State Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Martin Hamilton Smith MP, who is overseas and unfortunately couldn’t be here today, that Brent most recently was Chair of the Veterans’ Advisory Council in South Australia, a Ministerial appointment approved by Cabinet. In this capacity Brent pursued a forward looking agenda that included a focus on better employment opportunities for younger veterans resulting in the development of an employment framework that will be released later this month. Martin served alongside Brent both in uniform and in other pursuits following their service and remarked that he was proud to have served with someone with the professionalism and integrity of Air Vice Marshal Espeland.

It’s amazing how some people can influence your life with the simplest of actions. As leaders, we never know how far our support and encouragement of our staff can go. Personally I received great mentoring from Brent on many occasions but I’d like to pass on just one final story from Brent’s cousin, Dr Mark Bateup who is the Deputy Program Lead, of the High Speed Weapons Program
at the Defence Science & Technology Group out at Edinburgh. In Mark’s words:
“When I was about 10 years old, Brent was a SQNLDR in the RAAF Roulettes and he brought me on-base and I got to sit in the Aermacchi MB 326 aircraft. That, and many similar incidents, helped steer me towards Aero Engineering and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. In my early career (during the HyShot days) he was DCAF and explicitly called for me to brief him when he visited DSTO out at Edinburgh. It made the Chief of Weapons Systems Division, sit up and take notice of “hypersonics”, because DCAF was seeking briefings from a young scientist. That briefing helped get internal support for DSTO’s involvement in HyShot - at the time the Chief Defence Scientist was “hyper-cautious about hypersonics”- which also led to me getting sponsorship for doing a PhD at University of Queensland – prior to that, I did not have official support to do it, even though I had already chosen to enrol … the rest, as they say, is history ! I owe gratitude to my cousin for my participation in the HyShot Program, which formed the major part of my career, and the DST support for my PhD.”

To finish off I would like to read the following words from Brent’s Obituary on the ANZAC Centenary SA website which captures the essence of the man, “Brent was a man who believed there were better days ahead. His graciousness, smile, reassuring tone, and sense of humour were all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly the burdens of expectation throughout his life and career.

Brent’s approach to life was never more evident than during the last few months dealing with his illness while continuing to work tirelessly on the things that were important to him. His positive outlook, mental strength, and resilience were a study in courage that was, in short, inspirational. A man of service who persevered because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, Air Vice Marshal Espeland is part of an unbroken chain of those who have served with honour through the life of our nation.”
Rest in Peace Boss.”

Eulogy delivered by Peter Colliver, National Secretary, Air Force Association

Brent assumed the National presidency at pivotal stage in the Association’s evolution. The transition from our World War II cohort had been completed, and a strategic plan had been framed.

AVM (Ret’d) Brenton Jack Espeland) AMImplementation, however, was frustrated and stalled. There was a vision for one Association, but we remained tribal and territorial. Some even feared that an effective national body would somehow diminish the role of the State Divisions

Brent proved to be the oil that smoothed our path and the glue that has held us to it

He believed that in addition to having the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world, Australia should have the best cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world.

He had a passionate belief that, though not Air Force, the Association is a creature of Air Force and an integral part of the Air Force family, and of the broader Defence community, and that it has a role to play in advancing and preserving the interests of serving and former Air Force and ADF members, and providing support not elsewhere available.
His ability to handle delicate situations, was demonstrated early in his presidency, when faced with a couple of issues he dealt with them in such a way that the protagonists were able to accept the outcome, even though it wasn’t precisely what they had hoped for.

When it was proposed that DFWA, the Naval Association, RAR Corporation, the Special Air Service Association, and the Air Force Association form the Alliance of Defence Service Organizations (ADSO), Brent was determined that this attempt must succeed, where previous attempts at coalition had failed to last.

As a measure of the success to which his background efforts positively contributed, ADSO now comprises some 17 member organisations. An even more significant indicator of the progress that has been made is the joint response to the Federal Minister for Veterans Affairs, which Brent signed, two weeks ago, on behalf of ADSO, together with the National President of the RSL – the first such joint response I can recall in my 13 years of involvement at the national level.

Brent had a real knack for focussing on the essential elements of a situation or debate. He could lead by the nose, if he had to, but he preferred to persuade, to nudge or cajole to achieve the desired outcome. The right outcome, was better than a fast outcome.

He had a tremendous capacity for work, and gave his all to every task he undertook, and to every position he accepted. Weeks after his operation in May, he travelled to Melbourne, after a medical procedure in the morning to chair a meeting of our National Council.

In August he joined our strategic planning session by Skype from his hospital room. His insightful contributions helped us to re-shape our plan and our vision for the future.

He may not have been large in stature, but he leaves big shoes to fill.

Our lasting tribute to him will be to give substance to his vision.

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