Debbie was born in Brisbane, Queensland, and moved with her family to the Torres Strait Islands where she grew up. After graduating from high school she decided to go to Townsville, Queensland, to become a nurse and joined the air force in March 1995. She trained in Officer Training School at Point Cook before being posted to 3 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Hospital in Richmond, New South Wales in 1997. Debbie was sent to Cambodia to assist evacuations for a few weeks at this time where she was based at Butterworth in Malaysia. She returned to Australia and was posted to RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory, before going to 6 Hospital RAAF Base Laverton, Victoria. In 1999 she was posted to serve in East Timor, augmenting 1 Field Hospital in a makeshift medical centre in Dili. She spent 6 months in Dili, East Timor, before returning to Australia to continue work at 6 Hospital RAAF Base Laverton, Victoria.