Monday, January 24, 2011

Giants among men brings 'hearts to soar'

Our Australian SAS are a rare breed. They operate in complete secrecy, frequently on "Search and Destroy" missions and they are rarely publicly identified - even at home in Australia - so it is a rare occassion indeed when not one, but two of our elite SAS soldiers are not only identified by name but have their images published and details of their family are also revealed. Even more rarely are such men returned to the same field of conflict.

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, wife Emma and
five-month-old twins Elizabeth and Eve.
Photos: Defence


The Canberra Times
24 Jan, 2011 01:00 AM

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith looks the very essence of the heroic Australian digger, as drawn by war artists and photographed down the years. And like 98 Victoria Cross winners before him, he also played the part. During an operation in Afghanistan one day last northern summer he drew fire away from fellow soldiers by making himself an easy shot before single-handedly silencing two Taliban machine gun posts.

The towering 32-year-old father of five-month-old twin girls and a young son was presented the Victoria Cross by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at his Special Air Service regiment's home base, Campbell Barracks in Perth yesterday. Ms Bryce pinned the medal - struck from Russian guns captured during the Crimean war - on Corporal Roberts-Smith's chest, saying it represented the finest values and traditions of military service.

''In these times of hardship and grief for many Australians, you bring our hearts to soar and you remind us of the strength and the endurance of the human spirit,'' she said. ''Thank you for what you did and for what you will continue to do.''

The investiture took place in a memorial garden before a rock bearing a plaque with the names of 47 SAS soldiers who had died. It was watched by his wife, Emma, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Chief of Defence Force Angus Houston and a host of other politicians and military brass. Present, too, were two of the 98 Australians awarded the VC since the Boer War, Keith Payne and SAS Corporal Mark Donaldson.

Ms Gillard said, ''He will always know as we know now that in the heat of battle he did not fail when mateship and duty called.''

The son of Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission head, Len Roberts-Smith, he was awarded the VC for actions as a patrol second-in-command with the Special Operations Task Group on ''Operation Slipper'' last June 11.

His citation reads:
''Demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry in action in the face of a very determined and aggressive enemy and with total disregard for his own safety, Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith initiated an assault against an elevated fortification consisting of three enemy machine gun positions and superior numbers of heavily armed insurgents. With members of his patrol pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he knowingly and willingly exposed his position in order to draw fire away from his teammates and enabled them to apply fire against the enemy. Fighting at ranges as close as 20 metres, he seized the advantage and, demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry and with total disregard for his own safety, Corporal Roberts-Smith stormed two enemy machine gun positions killing both machine gun teams.

"His selfless actions in circumstances of great peril served to enable his patrol to break into the enemy's defences and to regain the initiative, thereby resulting in a tactical victory against an enemy more than three times the size of the ground force."
He won the Medal for Gallantry fighting in Afghanistan in 2006.

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith Joins Trooper mark Donaldson VC, who was was invested by her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009.


On 2 September 2008, during the conduct of a fighting patrol, Trooper Donaldson was travelling in a combined Afghan, US and Australian vehicle convoy that was engaged by a numerically superior, entrenched and coordinated enemy ambush. The ambush was initiated by a high volume of sustained machine gun fire coupled with the effective use of rocket propelled grenades. Such was the effect of the initiation that the combined patrol suffered numerous casualties, completely lost the initiative and became immediately suppressed. It was over two hours before the convoy was able to establish a clean break and move to an area free of enemy fire.

In the early stages of the ambush, Trooper Donaldson reacted spontaneously to regain the initiative. He moved rapidly between alternate positions of cover engaging the enemy with 66mm and 84mm anti-armour weapons as well as his M4 rifle. During an early stage of the enemy ambush, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to draw attention to himself and thus away from wounded soldiers. This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety.

As the enemy had employed the tactic of a rolling ambush, the patrol was forced to conduct numerous vehicle manoeuvres, under intense enemy fire, over a distance of approximately four kilometres to extract the convoy from the engagement area. Compounding the extraction was the fact that casualties had consumed all available space within the vehicles. Those who had not been wounded, including Trooper Donaldson, were left with no option but to run beside the vehicles throughout. During the conduct of this vehicle manoeuvre to extract the convoy from the engagement area, a severely wounded coalition force interpreter was inadvertently left behind. Of his own volition and displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Trooper Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter. His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine gun fire from entrenched positions. Upon reaching the wounded coalition force interpreter, Trooper Donaldson picked him up and carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles then provided immediate first aid before returning to the fight.

On subsequent occasions during the battle, Trooper Donaldson administered medical care to other wounded soldiers, whilst continually engaging the enemy.

Trooper Donaldson’s acts of exceptional gallantry in the face of accurate and sustained enemy fire ultimately saved the life of a coalition force interpreter and ensured the safety of the other members of the combined Afghan, US and Australian force. Trooper Donaldson’s actions on this day displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril. His actions are of the highest accord and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the Special Operations Command, the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.
A rare breed, Trooper Donaldson has since served a subsequent tour of duty in Afghanistan.


Sharon said...

Such courage and bravery, strong applause to these fine men!

Gill - That British Woman said...

we often hear negative things about our armed forces, so it is nice to hear something positive for a change.

Well deserved commendations for both men.

Sorry haven't been around much, sick as a dog at the moment,

Gill in Canada

LindaG said...

God bless them all. ♥

John Gray said...

nicely written blog john