Squadron Leader Karen Brown
Staff Officer, Defence Space Command

Karen’s story

It would be an understatement to say that the military has always been a huge influence on Squadron Leader Karen Brown’s life. Her father was in the Royal Australian Air Force and the family lived on the RAAF Williams base in Victoria.

Living on an airfield, Karen’s mum, a science teacher, learned to fly a plane and Karen joined Air Force Cadets and took up skydiving. So when it came to choosing a career, Karen knew what she wanted to do from a young age – to be a logistics officer in the Air Force.

Logistics officers keep things moving, whether that’s equipment, people or supplies. “I knew about all the roles in the military and I love organising things and doing events,” Karen says. “So I was very quick to identify my skill set and what I wanted to do.”

She was also dead-set on going to university at the Australian Defence Force Academy (or ADFA) in Canberra. “It seemed like the closest thing to an American college experience you could have in Australia at the time,” she says. “Living with all of your peers and being interstate and away from your family seemed exciting. I also liked the idea that I was going to get paid and be independent, all that sort of stuff.”

Karen studied business administration and management, completing a bachelor degree in 2008 followed by a master’s in 2011. Her first post was as Officer in Charge of Logistics in the Information Warfare Wing at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia.

“I got to see a lot of Australia and cut my teeth on the basics of logistics,” she says. “It was a lot of fun.”

Over the next few years, Karen held logistics roles in Darwin and Brisbane moving cargo in and out of Australia. She also did a deployment to the Middle East, helping move PMVs (or Protected Mobility Vehicles – a type of armoured 4-wheel drive) from Afghanistan to Australia to be refurbished and then returned.

After her deployment, Karen came back to Canberra and spent a year working as aide-de-camp to the Vice Chief of Defence Force. An aide-de-camp is like a personal assistant to a high-ranking officer in the military, following them wherever they go to provide help where needed. That usually means a lot of travel. “We did 36 countries in 18 months,” Karen says.

Karen then spent a year in Melbourne learning Portuguese. “It’s the primary language in East Timor,” she says. “In defence, people are trained in different languages to support potential needs.” Then it was back to Canberra for another logistics role, this time supporting the delivery of Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft from the US to Adelaide.

In 2018, Karen’s husband took a job based in Bangkok. Karen worked there remotely for a while before taking maternity leave and having two children. When she came back to work and Australia, she was posted to Defence Space Command. Her role in the domestic engagement team is to liaise with government agencies, industry and academia to make sure everyone is working towards the same goals.

“On any given day I might be meeting with the Australian Space Agency, the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO or an academic institution,” she says. “We’re all working toward a unified Australian approach in space. It’s a role that requires a lot of relationship building and good communication skills, things that logistics officers tend to be good at.”

Working in the space domain came as something of a surprise to Karen. “Coming out of maternity leave, I was like, oh, we have a space command now?” she laughs. “Space was never on my radar when I was young. But it’s incredibly exciting to be part of it now.”

Karen says that the best thing about working in space is the people. “There are so many passionate people who work in space. And whenever you work with passionate people, it creates excitement and ambition and desire to do great things. That makes it a cool place to work.

“I’ve had an incredibly diverse career and experienced so many different things. I’ve met people from so many different walks of life. I’ve seen what the world has to offer, and now, with space, we get to explore what the universe has to offer as well.”

Karen has always had a taste for adventure and a love of sport. She started skydiving at 16 years old as an Air Force Cadet. Later, she was the captain of ADFA’s inline hockey club – as in hockey on rollerblades. These days, though, she’s most likely to be found on the golf course or going for a run at Mount Jerrabomberra.

Karen’s journey

  • Karen grew up on a RAAF base in Victoria and was a scout and an air force cadet as a kid.
  • In 2005 she moved to Canberra to study business and management at ADFA. She completed her bachelor’s degree in 2008, and a masters in 2011.
  • She spent three years at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia working in logistics in the Information Warfare Wing.
  • She then spent two years in Darwin and Brisbane working with the Joint Movements Coordination Centre, first as a Platoon Commander and then as a Commanding Officer.
  • In 2012, Karen deployed to Afghanistan to coordinate the movement of personnel and cargo.
  • In 2013, she returned to Canberra as an aide-de-camp to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force.
  • Karen then spent several months working on the National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security. This is Australia’s plan for implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls.
  • In September 2017, Karen was deployed as a gender adviser in Operation Vanuatu Assist following the volcano eruption.
  • Karen spent three more years in logistics roles in Canberra. She then moved to Bangkok where she worked remotely for the Surveillance & Control System Program Office in Newcastle.
  • In May 2022, Karen joined Defence Space Command as a staff officer for the domestic engagement team.