By Brigadier John Carey, CSC.
The Corps RSM and I recently attended a National Commemoration Service on the 18th February to officially acknowledge the sacrifice of those Australians who fought during Operation Hammersley, in South Vietnam back in 1970. Operation Hammersley was carried out in the Long Hai Hills area of Phuoc Tuy Province and was defined by ambushing and intense close quarter fighting, along with landmine, tunnel and bunker clearance and demolition. The 28th February became known as ‘Black Saturday’ when a mine incident resulted in nine Australian killed and twenty-four wounded in action. Included in these casualties, were seven Tunnel Rats of the 1 Field Squadron, with Sapper Rodney Hubble paying the ultimate sacrifice.
Later, we attended an Australian War Memorial Last Post Ceremony, where the Corps remembered Sapper Allan Patterson, who was killed in action alongside his fellow 1 Field Squadron Sappers; Staff Sergeant Colin McLachlan, Lance Corporal John Garrett and Sapper David Steen. Their Engineer Section was acting in their secondary role of Infantry while conducting an overnight standing patrol forward of Fire Support Base Anderson near Bien Hoa, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive on the 17th/18th February 1968. This Last Post Ceremony was sponsored by the Vietnam Tunnel Rats Association and wreaths were laid to recognise all seven Australians (Engineers, Infantry, Artillery) and one American servicemen killed in action at the Fire Support Base on that night.
That evening we received a kind invitation to attend the Vietnam Tunnel Rats Association Dinner at the Hellenic Club in Canberra. What a night! It was a wonderful evening of remembrance and celebration with over 170 people attending, including 20 serving ADF personnel. For those soldiers, NCOs, warrant officers and officers who were able to make it, it was very much appreciated by all the veterans and their families in attendance.
President Mr Jim Marett showed yet again why he is such an inspirational leader; his devotion to the Corps and all veterans is second to none. Mr Peter Scott as the MC was the consummate professional. Both of them were outstanding hosts. My wife Aly, son Jack and I truly enjoyed meeting so many veterans and their families.
I had the remarkable privilege of speaking at the dinner. I would like to share with you some extracts from that speech:
‘On evenings like this most of us will remember the tragedy of losing comrades…and we do remember them…magnificent Sappers with broad smiles who led with purpose. But tonight is also about celebrating the Tunnel Rats – an absolutely essential part of RAE history.
Your efforts in South Vietnam were nothing but extraordinary. But we should not have been surprised.
I remember growing up as a young Sapper officer and learning about the legendary Tunnel Rats of South Vietnam. You were instrumental in finding and searching tunnels miles long and pioneering the employment of two man teams to carry out the search and demolition of hundreds of enemy underground bunker systems. You always led from the front – you had to. There was no other choice. The infantry and armour could not operate without you.
You developed new search techniques to save lives in the fight against mines and booby traps, which caused over 50 percent of Australian casualties at the peak of the war. And of course you paid an awful price, with 36 of your mates killed in action and just under 200 wounded from the same 650 men who operated in this role over the six years of the war, a casualty rate of around 33 percent.
The Tunnel Rats provided a flexible and adaptable force, quickly and without fuss – IT WAS WORLD-CLASS.
Your wide range of skills shown in the face of danger give truth to our Corps mottos of ‘EVERYWHERE’ and ‘WE MAKE AND WE BREAK’. It was your collective dedication and obvious professionalism that so easily impressed and I can tell you, it has left such a strong legacy for those who have served after you.
The Tunnel Rats adapted, innovated and overcame, in order to get to the objective and accomplish the mission, whatever it was…And to me that is what being a combat engineer…a Sapper…is all about: a state of mind that figures out how to get the job done – no matter what – and has the willpower, perseverance and strength to see the mission through to completion…all the while taking great care of our People.’
In closing, Jim regularly sends the RSM and I a copy of each edition of Holdfast – it has pride of place in my office for all to read who come and go. For those of you who know, on the back page, it always ends with a salute to modern-day Sappers. Well, to Jim and all Tunnel Rats everywhere – Admiration, Awe and Respect (Heaps of It).
The Corps honours all Tunnel Rats who closed with the enemy and never let us down. Even today, many years later, they continue to support the Sapper. Next time you meet a Tunnel Rat, or indeed any Engineer veteran from the war in South Vietnam, please shake their hand and thank them for their incredible courage, determination and Sapper spirit.
All the Best,
JOHN CAREY, CSC
Chief of Staff | Headquarters Joint Operations Command
Head of Corps, Royal Australian Engineers
The service and sacrifice of Australia’s Rwanda peacekeeping veterans from Operation TAMAR will be remembered today at a national commemorative service held at the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra.
From 1994 to 1996 it is estimated that up to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda — the magnitude of the violence and killings perpetrated on largely innocent civilians gained worldwide attention and condemnation.
The men and women who served in Rwanda were faced with unimaginable conditions and not even their advanced training and prior deployments could prepare them for what they encountered. In the face of these conditions, our ADF personnel went above and beyond in their duties. The two Australian contingents worked in the capital, Kigali and travelled throughout the country, providing help to civilians from July 1994 to March 1996.
At the service, the Governor-General His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) presented the Meritorious Unit Citation Warrant to each Service Chief, or their representatives, who accepted on behalf of their respective service personnel who deployed on the operation.
All three services were represented during Operation TAMAR, and Australian men and women gained great international respect and admiration for their compassion, professionalism and humanity in undertaking the peacekeeping operation.
Today’s service is an opportunity to honour the service of those involved in Operation TAMAR in support of the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts. Today is also an opportunity to reflect on all those Australians who have served in peacekeeping operations since 1947 with the aim of making the world a safer and more peaceful place.
Following the commemorative service, a reception will be held in the Anzac Hall of the Australian War Memorial, where a number of Operation TAMAR veterans will be presented with their individual Meritorious Unit Citation insignia.
For the some 700 ADF personnel who served in Operation TAMAR, the Meritorious Unit Citation is a worthy tribute in recognition of what they were able to achieve in Rwanda.
Australia will not forget your efforts and I congratulate you on being awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation as deserved recognition.
The Commemorative Service will start at 10am (22nd February) today at the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial, Anzac Parade, Canberra. To watch the service, visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DVAAUS) or watch it live on ABC.
It is with great sadness I wish to inform you of the death of my father, Noel Frederick Slaven. I believe he was a member of your association. My father served in D Coy of 1 RAR in Korea.
His funeral is to be conducted at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 19 February 2020 at Jonathan Hepner Funerals, 199 Ormond Road, East Geelong, Victoria.
If you didn’t have had the opportunity seeing and listening to Senator Jacqui Lambie slam The Department of Veterans Affairs, click on one of the links below .
She stated :-
“I gave a speech in the Senate tonight and had all cylinders firing at DVA. I’ve had enough of this Department, and I know veterans have too. I’ll let you listen to my speech and make up your own mind….”
You can either watch it on Facebook
Please pass this onto fellow veterans, war widows, family and friends.
It runs a shade over 10 minutes.
Graham Walker (seated in wheelchair) who owns a Saw Mill at Corryong writes;
“Never in my lifetime have I ever seen a bush fire become so political, with so much interference from city based experts!
Australia is known for its bush fires, cyclones, droughts and flooding rains so what has changed this time?
I believe we now have a new breed of people in this country that NEED TO BLAME somebody for every natural event that occurs and they have infiltrated our communities with their ideology!
The majority in this country are the “Quiet Australians” who have seen it all happen before and know we will see it all happen again.
Our voice wasn’t being heard! We knew that the fuel load was too high, we knew that policy had changed allowing fuel reduction burns and we knew that protesting by minority groups was influencing decision making!
Just back on June 20, 2019 I raised these issues in a Regional Forests Agreement meeting in Corryong with representatives from DELWP, Federal, State and local governments regarding the fuel load in National Parks, the blackberries and noxious weeds in State forests and Parks, the lack of maintenance of fire tracks, the lack of water storage in these areas and outlined that we had a ticking time bomb right under our noses!
Climate Change didn’t light the fires in NSW and Victoria, lightning and arsonists did!! The fuel load was there and it was tinder dry from the drought.
But now the SWAMP is rising and along with social media and mainstream media they are driving a tsunami of hate, of blame, of rebellion like we’ve never seen before!
Everything that goes wrong has to be someone else’s fault!!
They CRY Climate Change but then board an aeroplane to go overseas!
The scientists are some of the worst hypocrites in this area! Fly to this climate conference and then to the next!
Children are being indoctrinated in schools before they can even read and write, about politics, climate change, gender equality, sex and religion at such a young age and well before they can make their own judgements on any of these matters.
This indoctrination then spreads like a virus and infects those who we thought were immune, until it becomes a plague of rebellion and uprising against those who are the quiet Australians.
I might be old fashioned, but the Australia I knew as a kid was far better!
We didn’t care where the power came from, as long as the toaster or the lights worked!
We didn’t care if it was a drought as we knew every day was one closer to it raining!
I battled the 1st of February 1969 bush fires in 45c heat as a 15 year old, I bent all the linkage arms on the tractor ploughing fire breaks, experienced the extreme heat of the fire, the lack of oxygen in my lungs, being too scared to sleep inside the house at 2 am!
I saw the devastating loss of property, and the burying of dead stock.
We didn’t have P2 masks or were told every 5 minutes of the what the air quality was!! We wet a handkerchief and put it across our nose and mouth and tied a knot in the back and got on with it!!
Then the chaos came again a few weeks later when torrential rains came and caused massive erosion and polluted our water, and 3 months later on the 5th of May we had cows dying of bloat as the grass was so prolific!
THIS WILL ALL HAPPEN AGAIN!!
This is the country we live in and know as Australia, NO politician can change it, NO Climate Change policy will either!
Humans caused this atrocity by their ignorance of nature and the history we have on record that could be used to prevent this occurring this bad ever again!
Sorry about the rant but I’m not happy with the world right now!
A newly designed Anzac memorial at Bundaberg State High School will be used for the first time at this year’s Anzac Day commemoration.
Principal Karen McCord said the $22,000 memorial had been installed during the last months of 2019.
“We had carefully considered a design concept prior to approaching local Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt for a grant to assist with the project,” she said.
“We were able to source $10,000 from a government grant and the school has provided the remaining $12,000.
“The location of the memorial adjacent to Maryborough Street ensures a very public view of the memorial.
“The work was undertaken by Higgins Contracting and we are thrilled with the completed project which incorporates design elements that reflect the Gallipoli story. School staff were also heavily involved in the creative aspects of the memorial.”
Ms McCord said special tiles with a wave-like finish and sandstone coloured blocks were indicative of the elements at ANZAC Cove where the Australian forces landed.
“We have introduced other elements such as 10 picture tiles of historic Gallipoli scenes. Another great feature are the bollards surrounding the memorial that are of a bullet or shell-like design and also the garden beds with their plantings of Rosemary.”
She said the memorial was located a short distance from the school’s Assembly Hall where the normal Anzac Day ceremony is observed.
“It’s our intention to live-stream the flag raising and wreath laying segments of our Anzac Day observance to students inside the building,” she said.
“It is very important that the traditional messages of courage, sacrifice and mateship are perpetuated.
“Students have a very strong understanding of Anzac Day and a very strong affiliation to its observance.”
Ms McCord said Bundaberg State High School was transitioning through a redesign and the new master plan would dovetail perfectly with the current placement of the school’s Anzac memorial.
A powerful, new independent body will be created to investigate all suspected veteran and Australian Defence Force (ADF) suicides and causes to help save lives.
The Morrison Government will establish a permanent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
The National Commissioner will have the enduring power, scope and resources to investigate suicides and related issues as they arise, rather than being restricted by a one-off review looking at past practices.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the independent Commissioner would also have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.
“This is about being forever vigilant for the care and well-being of our veterans,” the Prime Minister said.
“Those veterans and all serving men and women protect our community and our freedoms. It is our duty to do the same for them.
“I have thought long and hard about the best response to this issue. I have spoken to veterans right across Australia and I have met with their families and also local, state and national organisations.
“I believe what we have developed addresses the needs of those veterans, their families and our serving men and women.
“We will be permanently vigilant about their welfare.”
The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be empowered to perform two roles:
- The Commissioner will be an independent and permanent public accountability body, with the same powers of a Royal Commission to compel the production of evidence and summon witnesses, and make findings and recommendations to Government.
- The Commissioner will also provide an ongoing investigative function of individual cases of suicide, working with each state and territory coronial office, making recommendations to Government.
The Government will invest an initial $40 million to support the Commissioner’s work and this will be expanded to ensure they have whatever resources they need.
The Government will also establish an immediate, independent review of historical veteran suicide cases, conducted by the Commissioner, focusing on the impact of military service and veterans’ post service experience.
An interim report will be delivered within 12 months. Families will be engaged in this process if they wish, with an opportunity to participate and tell their stories openly and safely.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, along with coronial and legal experts, will provide technical expertise in support of this work.
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said the Commissioner would also deliver an Annual Veteran and Defence Suicide Death Report to the Parliament.
“This will be a transparent report directly to the Parliament on an annual basis on suicides within the defence and veteran community, including an update on the implementation and evaluation of measures to reduce suicide risk factors,” Mr Chester said.
“The Government is committed to ensuring ADF members, veterans and their families have access to the right support, at the right time, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk.”
Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC said the Chief of the Defence Force and each Service Chief was committed to being open and transparent, to support improved health outcomes for ADF personnel and veterans.
“The mental health and wellbeing of our vets and Defence Force members is an issue of national and enduring importance.
“These comprehensive measures have been developed with a very clear focus on finding the most effective and practical ways of better identifying, preventing, understanding and acting on suicide and suicide risks among our vets and service men and women.”
A Veteran Family Advocate will also be appointed to directly engage with the families of veterans, to improve the design of all veteran programs and services, including mental health supports and services.
“The new Veteran Family Advocate will focus on mental health and suicide prevention, and contribute to our understanding of risk factors relating to the wellbeing of veterans and their families, particularly during transition from the ADF,” Mr Chester said.
“The Advocate will represent the views of veterans and their families by engaging and advocating to help shape policy and the administration of veteran benefits and support.
“We want to assure defence and veterans’ families that help is available now and it can make a difference. Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling provides support and counselling to current ADF members, veterans and their families and can be contacted 24/7 on 1800 011 046.”
Programs supporting younger at-risk veterans and veterans transitioning to civilian employment are set to expand to hundreds more people as part of a significant funding boost from the Morrison Government.
A review of mental health care in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has found there are not enough resources or staff.
The independent review by Professor David Dunt found mental health problems remain stigmatised in the ADF and the wider community, and there are many barriers to seeking care.
The Federal Government says it will act on 49 of the 52 recommendations and the remaining three have been partially accepted.
About $80 million will be spent over four years to address the problems identified.
A leaked copy of the report admitted soldiers returning from war were not receiving adequate treatment for mental health problems.
Experts estimate that up to 10 per cent of combatants returning from the Middle East and Afghanistan may be suffering long-term mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Defence Science and Personnel Minister, Warren Snowdon, and the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Alan Griffin, said the review assessed the extent to which the mental health needs of serving and transitioning ADF members were being met.
“The report highlights the successes and gaps in the delivery of mental health programs and transition services and makes 52 recommendations to improve and extend those services,” Mr Snowdon said.
“Implementing the recommendations will ensure our current and ex-service personnel have easier access to best practice mental health services. Preventive activities will be delivered by staff dedicated to mental health promotion and multi-disciplinary health teams will ensure holistic care that also considers the needs of families.”
Professor Dunt says the ADF’s mental health strategy is admirable but under-resourced and understaffed.
He has recommended more training on mental health issues, better screening after personnel come back from deployment and a significant change to the way mental health services are provided.
“We need to have more psychologists on base particularly. We need to have a greater involvement of doctors,” Professor Dunt said.
“I think that all these different people need to work in multi-disciplinary teams at the base, at the regional level, at the national level and also here in Canberra at the policy and planning level.”
The implementation plan has 10 elements that will provide improved mental health governance and policy. They include: more mental health staff; increased mental health training for ADF personnel and providers; enhanced prevention strategies including better research; improved mental health rehabilitation and transition services; and better facilities for mental health services.
Mr Griffin said while many of the recommendations can be acted upon immediately, others will take several years to achieve.
“Both DVA and Defence will report regularly to the Government on their progress in implementing the recommendations,” he said.
“This Government understands the importance of robust and effective mental health support services. With more than 25,000 troops having served overseas since 1999, we must remain focused on ensuring both departments support the growing needs of our current and ex-service personnel.”