High-flying general slept in Saddam’s palace
Peter and Heather Brennan (left) with some of military decorations he received during his career.
By Ieva Tomsons
HODDY Well retired Air Force Air Commodore Peter Brennan (62) has come a long way from dairy farming in Taranaki New Zealand.
The 5am starts and hard work helped set him up for the disciplined life that he would lead serving in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for more than 34 years.READ MORE
When he was 18, Peter left New Zealand and headed to Geraldton for a year’s holiday but ended up working for two years for the Main Roads Department constructing the road from Meekathara to Mount Newman.
During this time he met his wife Heather at a local disco and they married in Geraldton in 1979.
He applied to join the WA Police Force and RAAF and although accepted by both organisations, a life-long love of flying clinched his decision to join the air force and the newlyweds headed to RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.
“It was a big move for Heather,” acknowledges Peter who peppers his conversation with references to his wife’s unswerving support through his long and highly decorated career.
“We didn’t have two bob to rub together initially and I had a second job cleaning pubs at night as well as studying for three years to complete my higher school certificate so I could apply for a commission.”
The hard work paid off and Corporal Brennan became a junior officer in the supply branch in 1985 not long after computers had been introduced. Data analysis was his forte and he quickly adapted to computerisation.
“If you look at data properly, you can predict problems, but you have to know what to look for and really know the system/network.”
After nine and a half years and postings to Amberley and East Sale, the Brennans, now with two boys in tow, returned to WA where Peter supervised all military movements through Perth airport.
While building his logistics expertise, this job also put him in direct contact with military VIPs who he would later encounter as he rose through the ranks to become an Air Commodore (equivalent to a One-Star General).
The family were happily settled in Perth when Peter was offered a top systems analysis job in Canberra.
He was reluctant to go as one son was completing Year 12, but Heather had the last word: “I can handle this,” she said, “you go”.
The family joined him the following year and Peter continued to oversee the Australia-wide logistics computing system for airbases and stores depots.
After several assignments and promotions in Canberra he was selected to attend the US Air Force Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery Alabama USA.
It was a great opportunity to establish international connections in an elite environment with only 80 international officers invited to join the one-year multi-agency course of 600 students.
Peter had a bit of chip on his shoulder that he didn’t have a university degree and was embarrassed when he had to introduce himself and state his qualifications.
“The US officers all had Masters or PhDs so I said I had two certificates and was guaranteed to get a third; I had a birth certificate, a marriage certificate and I would certainly get a death certificate – that broke the ice.”
During his year in Alabama he formed firm international friendships and his ability to provide ‘good gouge’ to his fellow students ensured his popularity.
“Gouge is note sharing. I am a diagram person and they were all keen on my diagrams (as study tools) for the exams which we did about every six weeks.”
“It was a great learning environment and we had the opportunity to ask high-ranking generals and senior Washington staff frank questions.”
While Peter might have started behind the eight ball in terms of formal education he could clearly think on his feet.
He was keen to secure a piece of illustrated military memorabilia from the campus’ library which featured the first African-American air force general Benjamin O. Davis but noticed that one of the other nominated signatures, that of former US President George H. Bush, was missing.
“They wanted $US500 for the (limited edition) prints. Apparently, he signed only one copy for the library archives because as a serving president he could not endorse a commercial product.”
Peter negotiated half price, got the retired president’s number, rang his office and secured three signed copies for himself and two mates.
When he left the academy in 1999 to tour around America with Heather, he had completed a Masters in Military Operational Art and Science and had won the International Officer Leadership Award.
Peter returned to Canberra and went on to command the RAAF Recruit Training Unit and later, the 1st Joint Movements Group which controls the movement of joint forces to and from operations and exercises.
In addition to being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia and awarded a Conspicuous Service Medal, he has received commendations from the highest levels of military command.
In 2010 he was appointed the Director General Logistics Air Force with responsibilities across supply, engineering and maintenance – a huge job which he was honoured to accept.
Peter is an Iraq veteran and has stayed in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces which sounds very grand but in reality, was basic billeting in ransacked rooms.
In 2012 Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer and Peter commuted between Toodyay and Canberra while she underwent treatment.
After retiring in 2013 he went on to draft a treaty between Australia and the Republic of Singapore for the Singaporean use of RAAF Base Pearce at Bullsbrook for pilot training, as well as chairing promotion boards for senior officers.
“Heather is my confidant and the love of my life and we are very happy to be a part of the wonderful Toodyay community,” said Peter who is President of the Toodyay RSL Sub-Branch and a Lieutenant with Toodyay Central Bush Fire Brigade.
So there you have it, behind this one-star general is a five-star woman and Peter would be the first to agree.