Graphic from the Australian War Memorial site

Amongst other interest I run a site for my Vietnam Alma Mater 7RAR, and of late I have redesigned it, mainly due to an increase in interest by the new generation of ‘Protectors of the Realm’. 7RAR currently has troops on operations in Afghanistan and the reality is, if they are not on patrol they can surf the net. Whereas us dinosaurs got some mail weeks after it was posted, and then only if the Posties deemed to let it through; and then only if we weren’t on patrol and then it could more weeks, these guys, members of the instant gratification technological age have immediate comms and I envy them. That’s where the differences end. They patrol as we did, they loose friends, wounded or dead as we did and the weights they carry, particularly their patrol order, look much heavier than what we dealt with. They also have to deal with a lackluster ally as we did. On the 7RAR site there is an interview with a Lieutenant and he is discussing training Afghani troops who think they don’t need it. One of the guys says he fought against the Russians so what can this young man teach him. The Lieutenant counters by saying, in an understated Aussie Infantry type of way, that the old man’s tactics are unsound. It brought back memories of a South Vietnamese Captain who pointed out that he had been soldiering longer than I had been alive. Maybe…maybe, but I also knew that the captain had never spent any more than one night in the field in all that time so I didn’t feel inferior in any way. I must have spent, at the very least, more than 200 days dossing on the ground in the jungle in that year. 7RAR have earned the right to be a part of tomorrows commemorations and if they do have time to stop they will be thinking of their wounded and of Corporal Mathew Hopkins who was Killed in Action on the 16 Mar 09
Corporal Mathew Hopkins was tragically killed in an engagement with insurgents while serving with the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force (MRTF) in Afghanistan. A valued member of the Darwin-based 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Corporal Hopkins was conducting a patrol near Kakarak when he and his team were engaged by a group of around 20 Taliban. He was evacuated by a Coalition helicopter to the nearby medical facility in Tarin Kowt as soon as the security situation allowed. Despite all efforts, he died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Corporal Hopkins was 21 years old, and was married with a young son.
Coincidentally, the two 7RAR soldiers KIA before Mathew in the sad chronology of death, died as a result of a mine detonation. Neither Alan Talbot or ‘General’ Paton knew what hit them but we did. The incident happened on the 1st of February, 1971. Alan died immediately and while I had hope for ‘General”, he succumbed to massive trauma five days later. I managed the Dustoff and the memories stay written indelibly in the dark corners of my mind. The bad news guys is just that – the memories don’t fade. The names are different, that’s all. Lest we Forget. Visit the Battalion website, look around and maybe leave a comment for the young ones in danger’s way in Afghanistan.

Missing Vietnam RAAF Bomber found

canberra A Canberra bomber with 2 Sqn RAAF in South Vietnam THE remains of an RAAF Canberra bomber flown by Australia’s last two MIAs have been found in Vietnam. canberracrewThe wreckage was found in a remote mountainous region near the Viet-Lao border but no human remains have been located so far, Defence Science and Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon said in a statement. Flying Officer Michael Herbert (left) and Pilot Officer Robert Carver went missing in November, 1970. More Additional reading; 2 Sqn Association site and Airwarvietnam info on 2 Sqn.

Taliban causing civilian casualties

Governor of Oruzgan, Assadullah Hamdam, says three men and a woman were killed when SAS troops went after the Taliban killers of a special forces soldier. Short answer. Tell the Taliban not to hide behind woman and children. Long answer. It is extremely unfortunate and no Aussie soldier would wish for it to happen but until we can manage to stop the Taliban involving civilians then it will happen; again and again. The Governor had urged Australian troops to be more cautious when targeting Taliban fighters, Sky said, including consulting with villagers. That’ll work! “Excuse me Mr Villager, we want your authority to go into the village and capture a Taliban terrorist”. “Sure thing”, he replies. “Just give us time to arrange for his escape”. Or worse; “Sure thing, just give us and the Taliban time to set up an ambush” The ADF are investigating the incident, and rightly so, but the problem is an old one and won’t go away in a hurray. So long as we review our battle procedures and Rules of Engagement to ensure we are not unduly risking civilian lives then we have done all we can. Other than that we can only continue to attack the Taliban and work to eventually isolate them from the civilian population sufficiently enough to destroy them. The last thing anyone should do is think poorly of the SAS. They have a very difficult job to do and are doing it magnificently, notwithstanding civilian casualties.

SASR pay debacle

SPECIAL Air Service troopers and their families say they have been warned theyface new debts this week because of overpayments, amid continued confusion over army bungling of their pay.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has called in independent auditors to examine army pay systems, admitting he does not know whether to believe assurances from army chiefs they have stopped docking soldiers’ pay packets after a dispute about overpayment.
Accusing the Army Chiefs of lying and sending in Auditors to prove it is a big call. I’m the first to admit the Army makes errors but I doubt very much whether the Army Chiefs would strive to hide the fact of subordinate incompetence or clerical ineptitude, particularly when Ministers and politicians are looking for someone to take the ‘hospital pass’. I personally know some of them and I do know they would not lie to a Minister of the crown to save their own career if they themselves had defaulted. As soon as the matter was raised in the House and become public knowledge the Army would have pulled out all stops to abide by a Ministerial Direction. If there was one. The Generals would have spoken severely to subordinates and ranks down the chain would have audited their procedures and had them verified. The SASR have been flogged and with frequent operational rotations they are left with little time back in Australia to requalify for their skills allowances or, in fact, qualify for new ones. They are the guys being disadvantaged and it should be fixed NOW with some leeway afforded the veteran. After all it is difficult to re- qualify for para allowance when you are busy fighting on the ground The immediate problem is troopers coming back from rotation and electing discharge. Their final pay calculation is a major part of their discharge or super payments and has the potential to cost them serious money and all they are guilty of his serving their country. The whole situation should have been interred four or five months ago but like the mythical Pheonix, it keep rising from the ashes of failed promises. As if all that isn’t bad enough we now have a Defence Minister calling Army Generals liars. Good luck with your future relationships with the Military Joel but in the meantime you would be well advised to fight like hell for the diggers and when in doubt maybe some ex gratio payments could be in order. After all your government is throwing money at everybody else that looks like a voter so why not give some to those demonstrably deserve it.

Defence accepts less, ACTU wants more

THE global financial crisis has forced the Defence Department to shelve plans to buy billions of dollars’ of military equipment, including a new $5 billion maritime surveillance system. The economic downturn will also mean the navy will not exercise the option to acquire a fourth air warfare destroyer worth $2 billion, and could force a one-year delay in plans to spend $16 billion on 100 F-35 joint strike fighters. While Defence is putting the final touches to its long-awaited white paper, the rapidly deteriorating global economy could dictate further delays in its publication beyond the May budget, according to senior government sources yesterday. I have no qualms about defence carrying some of the needed cuts in expenditure but I think it should be across the board. Not so says ACTU leader Sharron Burrow.On the same front page of The Australian that announce a tightening in defence expenditure Sharron says paid Maternity leave is still plausable The original cost of the scheme was put at about $525million a year, with taxpayers to foot $450 million and business to cover $75 million. I promise you, these figures are rubbery and presented to get the idea passed. It will cost a lot more and I’m sure business are just queuing up to fork out $75 m or more from their already depleted profit margins. And I don’t know what this means.
“If indeed you can’t afford it in one hit, then talk to Australian women,” Ms Burrow said yesterday.
And say what? Planned Defence cuts are for decades ahead so ‘phasing’ in extra paid leave doesn’t cut it. Paid maternity leave is something the country could consider in good harvest years; not in the middle of a recession with possibly worse to come
“If it needs to be phased in over a couple of years, that’s a discussion that can be had, but don’t make women wait.”
We’re all waiting Sharron.

VC Awarded

A SOLDIER who deliberately drew enemy fire and then carried a wounded colleague to safety through a hail of bullets has been awarded the Victoria Cross. Details of the SAS soldier’s bravery first emerged last year.
At the time the chief of Australia’s special operations, Major-General Tim McOwan, said in late 2007 Australian troops had encountered significant numbers of Taliban prepared to attack them in large groups. An Australian, US and Afghan convoy was ambushed by a superior and well-prepared Taliban force while returning to base.
The clash resulted in nine Australian soldiers being wounded, the largest casualty toll of any single action since Vietnam. The previous day, the Australian soldiers killed 13 Taliban. As the convoy withdrew, the Taliban opened fire. Major General McOwan said soldiers reacted without concern for their own safety.
One, identified only as Trooper F at the time, but now known to be Trooper Donaldson, deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire on several occasions to draw attention away from the wounded. He then saw that a severely wounded Afghan interpreter had fallen from a vehicle and was lying on open ground raked by machine gun fire. “Without prompting, and without regard to his own safety, Trooper F ran back to recover the wounded Afghan,” the major general said. “He ran across about 80 metres of fire-swept and exposed ground, drawing intense and accurate machine-gun fire from the entrenched enemy positions.” Still under fire, he lifted the wounded man onto his shoulders and carried him back to the convoy’s vehicles. He administered first aid and then returned to the fight. Trooper Donaldson said he had not really thought about the danger when he went to rescue the stricken interpreter. “I’m a soldier … I’m trained to fight, that’s what we do, it’s instinct and it’s natural and you don’t really think about it at the time,” he said. “I just saw him there, I went over there and got him, that was it.”
Well done that man.

Traditions: just add spin

Barely a month ago Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon decides to abrogate defence responsibility and stand the navy down for two months over summer as a means of retaining sailors and already Debbie Guest, a journalist with The Australian cites it as ‘traditional’ In an article about the Navy rescuing a yachtsman south west of Albany, WA the stand down becomes traditional with the Government approved rider indicating the public shouldn’t be alarmed – national security is OK.
The naval operation came during the defence force’s traditional two-month stand-down over the Christmas period, although this does not have any affect on national security or the force’s ability to respond to emergencies.
In my time traditions took decades or generational change to be formed and accepted – now it just takes government spin. As an aside we irreverent Infantrymen used to say; the Navy had traditions, the Army customs and the RAAF, habits.

Do the ALP now want to help Iraq?

CONTINGENCY plans are being prepared for an abrupt end to Australia’s military presence in Iraq within a fortnight unless a new legal accord can be hammered out by December 3. I think the article is a bit of a beat-up as Staff Officers will prevail and it’s odds on that a new legal accord will be hammered out by 31 December but this line caught my eye
“The expiration of the UN mandate means that we need to find an alternative legal basis to be in Iraq and to continue in our efforts to provide a long-term future for the Iraqi people,” Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon told The Australian last night.
Joel…Joel, how can you say that. The ALP has had a stated aim of not supporting any sort of effort to provide a long-term future for the Iraqi people. Remember? Iraq was your idea of a “bad war” as different, for some inexplicable reason, from the “good war” in Afghanistan. On gaining the keys to the treasury bench you immediately withdrew those in the ADF helping Iraqis in their long-term future ideals leaving a few HQ guys and a security detachment at the Embassy. I could be wrong though, maybe the ALP has changed its policy – I just haven’t seen it written anywhere and in light of that I can only assume Joel is bullshitting.

Navy to be stood down

SHUTTING down the Navy for the summer holidays is a way of retaining sailors, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says. It’s also a way of abrogating defence responsibilities. I can just see the people smugglers in Indonesia frantically putting out the message that it will be open season for queue jumpers over the summer break.
Docked ships will be manned by a skeleton staff using protective alarms.
Yeah, that’ll work. I trust the protective alarms are tactically sited to give all round defence.

Good men all

Lest we ForgetPause and remember.
“In September, for example, there came to the medical officer of the 9th a youngster named Gray (of Murgon, Q’land), whom he remembered having seen before. This was one of two brothers, Queenslanders of the 9th Bn., who during the voyage from Australia nearly a year before had both become ill with influenza. They had been so reduced by illness that they were suspected of being tubercular, and were consequently brought before a medical board at Mena Camp and ordered to be returned to Australia. Both were so heartbroken that they wept, and Col. B.J. Newmarch (of Sydney), who presided over the board, relented, and allowed each of them to be put temporarily off duty, in order to build themselves up by food and exercise. They were eventually declared fit, and afterwards sedulously avoided the doctor, and both landed with their battalion. At the Landing one brother (Pte. G.R. Gray) had been a member of one of the parties which penetrated farthest. It was the other who now came to the regimental doctor saying that he had received a wound at the Landing and, though he had been to hospital, it was again giving a little trouble. He had endeavoured to “carry on,” but had at last been forced to see if the doctor could advise a little treatment. The medical officer found that he had had a compound fracture of the arm, two bullets through his thigh, another through diaphragm, liver and side; and that there were adhesions to the liver and pleura. He was returned at once to Australia, where he was eventually discharged from hospital and , re-enlisting, returned to the front in the artillery. His brother eventually became quartermaster of the 9th, in which capacity he continued to serve until the last year of the war.”
Many years later I had the honour to serve as a Cadre Officer at 9th Battalion, The Royal Queensland Regiment, the new name for the old 9th, the keepers of the Battle Honours and traditions. I was at the bar in the officer’s mess drinking with two guys who had landed at Gallipolli with the 9th on the 25th of April. They argued long and loud over who was actually the first of all ANZACs to land that morning and later conversations with others confirmed these guys had the right to the argument. We were drinking schooners with rum chasers and although I was 30 something and fit, it become apparent I would fall on my face if I kept up with them. Both these guys were pushing 80, tall six-footers and both DCM winners! The 9th went on to suffer 1094 killed and 2422 wounded (including gassed) and it’s members were decorated into the history books being awarded; 1 VC 1 CB 1 CMG 5 DSO 1 MVO 35 MC, 2 bars, 1 2nd bars 35 DCM 152 MM ,11 bars, 1 2nd bar 4 MSM 1 Albert Medal 52 MID 5 foreign awards 35 MCs (2 bars, 1 2nd bars); 35 DCMs and 152 MM (11 bars, 1 2nd bar) for chrissakes. Pause and remember; not at the misery or the terrible casualty rates although they are horrendous; but at their sheer toughness. Good men; I dips me to lid to them all. From Digger History
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