SALE mother of two, Alexis Mapleback, could be described as the changing face of the military — in two quite different senses.
A Salvation Army Lieutenant since 2017, she became one of Australia’s youngest Air Force chaplains last year — and one of a growing number of women in the job — after seeking out an opportunity to extend her pastoral reach to the RAAF base.
Lieutenant Mapleback, or Flight Lieutenant as she is known when she dons the camouflage, is admirably committed to all three pursuits, and balances the trials of being mother to two children under five, with running the Salvation Army’s Sale Corp with her husband, Captain Simon Mapleback, and providing chaplaincy to personnel at the East Sale military base.
The 27-year-old, fifth generation Salvationist didn’t set her sights on an army career, despite the obvious connections.
But love and marriage, and an unassailable desire to improve the plight of others, meant her path was, in a way, predetermined by greater forces.
“Growing up a child of Salvation Army parents who moved around a lot, I had a very different idea about what I wanted for myself and my family,” she said.
“We lived in many different countries and were always moving, which I didn’t really like as a child, so I rejected the army as a career even though I knew that I wanted to help people in some way or another.”
After school, Alexis pursued her dream to be a social worker, but along the way met her husband Simon, who was training to be a Salvation Army officer, and her career course took a major turn.
Now both fully trained Salvation Army officers, the pair moved to Sale two years ago and are working together to ensure the disadvantaged residents of Sale and surrounds have access to the pastoral care, and basic necessities and life skills they need to survive in an increasingly challenging world.
In Sale and surrounds, like so many other regional towns around the country, those challenges include homelessness, drug addiction, family violence and mental health problems — issues that are often hidden to the rest of the community.
“In this region there is a huge homelessness problem,” she said.
“People sleeping in local parks, under the Swing Bridge, tucked away in other hidden open spaces — it’s not in your face like Melbourne, but it’s here,” she said.
She said Gippsland had a big ice problem, and that meant people were be facing “all those issues that come from drug abuse, such as family breakdown, domestic violence, lack of money to live”.
“We don’t provide a housing service, but we can assist in many ways, and help with food, financial issues and basic necessities; it’s a pretty constant demand.”
“We help with a lot of that, and we also have someone who lobbies Canberra to get more done for people in need.”
Chaplaincy at the RAAF base is equally challenging, albeit the starkly different circumstances of that community.
“Most people might not think about it, but life on base can be a pressure bubble environment, so problems can seem bigger than in the ‘normal’ world,” Alexis said.
“Pastoral care is a really important element of my work, because RAAF personnel are still humans with real emotions and fears like the rest of us, and may be dealing with anything from relationship issues to matters relating to deployment or relocation.
“The military is a very high demand environment, and I’m very aware of the importance of my role out there — I feel incredibly privileged to be working there.
“I get to see and talk to and interact with people who are facing pressures in their life, and I know that sometimes we make a real difference.
“It’s a high energy environment, but Defence has some really good systems in place to support staff.”
High energy is a common theme in Alexis’ life.
Like that of many working parents, life in the Mapleback household is a juggling act, with Alexis sharing parenting duties with her equally busy husband, and swapping between duties at the army’s Cunninghame St corps, the East Sale RAAF Base, and being “mum” to her inquisitive and ever-active pre-schoolers.
Alexis said that being young and female, her journey had at times been a “battle”, but one that’s been well worth it.
“I’m happy to show my children they can do anything they set their minds on,” she said.