The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday when SAS hero and Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith announced that he was staying in the army for the time being.
Corporal Roberts-Smith is the poster boy from central casting for the Australian Defence Force and he had previously told senior officers that he planned to leave the service following 18 years in the army and nine tours of duty with the SAS.
“Like any member of the ADF, there will come a time for me to move on. However, if and when that time comes, I will remain connected to the SASR, the Army and the ADF,’’ he said.
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“He who seeks peace should prepare for war” wrote Roman scholar Vegetius during the latter part of the Roman Empire.
Though most would argue the phrase alone is somewhat simplistic, it is nevertheless true that the number one priority of any democratically elected government is the protection and wellbeing of its citizens. This simple concept has been evident among communities across the globe throughout history, recorded in the most ancient of documents.
However, in the current global community, where the boundaries of nation states seem to blur as communication systems and faster modes of travel allow us to access the world at a whim, there seems to be a growing temptation for our leaders to lose focus on the practical on-ground defence of our nation and those who serve abroad in our name.
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As more dire details ooze out, it becomes clearer that something has been festering in Defence for decades.
The Government released the DLA Piper report into allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence yesterday, and it was grim reading. Our military institutions over the past six decades have provided an excellent petri dish for abuse, cultivating many factors that increase risk.
Many of the findings were released earlier this year. Of 775 allegations most were plausible and “probably substantially accurate” and there were probably many more that weren’t reported to the review.
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We admire them, but we’re not entirely sure why. We allow them to operate in the shadows; we rarely ask what they do. The less we know about them, the more their mystique grows.
Have we permitted our special forces, our SAS and Commandos, to become unaccountable?
Special forces are becoming more imperative as mass troop deployments are seen as the undesirable option of last resort. If a situation can be sorted by sending in a small, skilled assault squad to eliminate the problem, secure the hostage, or stop the problem before it begins, it makes sense.
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It’s a pretty special set of circumstances when a tax-payer-funded body releases a series of reviews exposing decades of cultural problems, including 775 allegations of sexual assault, and the Minister is the one facing questions over why he won’t apologise for standing down one of the people in charge.
Last night on the ABC’s 7.30 Defence Minister Stephen Smith was asked in numerous ways why he wouldn’t apologise to Australian Defence Academy Commandant Bruce Kafer, who has been reinstated this week, 11 months after being stood down over the so called “Skype” scandal.
When the scandal broke, involving an 18-year-old woman cadet being filmed without her consent having sex, and the vision broadcast via the internet to some of her classmates, Smith went in pretty hard and fast.
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When Rod Stewart rocked Adelaide last month, he dedicated Rhythm of My Heart to the servicemen and women of Australia and Britain. I remember it distinctly for two reasons: 1) in Australia, we might ‘well up’ once a year as veterans march on ANZAC Day, but we most definitely don’t fawn over serving troops; and 2) someone shouted “THANKYOU” in a way that implied “FINALLY, some bloody recognition”.
I’ve been musing on the incident this week in the wake of those inane comments uttered on Channel Ten’s morning chat show The Circle.
In the unlikely event you missed the subsequent outpouring of wrath, hosts Yumi Stynes and George Negus ‘joked’ about the intelligence and sexual prowess of Australia’s newest Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. Tacky at best, disgusting at worst, and the social networks went into meltdown.
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It has been almost 600 days since 28-year-old Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney from Brisbane was killed in action in Afghanistan.
The new dad was shot in the upper body by a single enemy round during the Battle of Derapet in the Tangi Valley on August 24, 2010.
Following the battle one of his close mates in the Mentoring Task Force wrote a detailed email in which he claimed that with better fire support from mortars, artillery and light armoured vehicles, Lance Corporal MacKinney might not have been killed.
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There has been plenty of diplomatic semantics around the American presence in Darwin but many including the Chinese are still not satisfied. The United States has long wanted a permanent military base in northern Australia.
But they are not stupid.
So when Australian officials conveyed that a fixed establishment would not be politically palatable here they saved us the embarrassment of having to say no in a high-level bilateral meeting if the request was made.
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Defence Minister Stephen Smith may see the first female body come back from the frontlines in Afghanistan and rue the day he peeled back the discriminatory laws that stopped women from taking up the most dangerous roles.
But he probably won’t. He probably won’t be Defence Minister and he probably won’t have implemented the changes before Australia withdraws from Afghanistan.
And, because he’s a fairly intelligent sort of bloke, he’ll probably have thought through the squeamishness of letting women do dangerous jobs and realised that’s what you do in a liberal, non-discriminatory society, even if it means poor press if things go to shit.
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As another Australian family endures the soul-destroying grief of the loss of a young son in Afghanistan - the fourth in a week - the debate about the nation’s role in the campaign has shifted into fraught territory.
Some surveys show that the majority of Australians want the troops to be brought home immediately. Our political leaders say we must hold our nerve and harden our resolve for more losses in the weeks ahead.
Given that only two of the four latest casualties, Sgt Brett Wood and special-forces combat engineer Rowan Jaie Robinson, were killed in action fighting the Taliban the bipartisan position is the right one for a host of reasons.
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In 2006 I spent a couple of days at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
I inspected its organised dormitories (where male and female cadets shared the same buildings - but separate rooms). It’s like an upmarket youth hostel with communal kitchen and bathrooms at the end of each hallway. While there, I fired weapons, ate in the mess and spoke to staff including officers, professors and historians. It’s an impressive place.
ADFA at first glance looks like a tidy university, but walk into the bookshop and titles like Knife Fighting Techniques by inmates at Folsom Prison remind you this is a different world. This is a frat house with guns.
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The reputation of the defence force has once again been tarnished by its personnel behaving badly. A defence force cadet has allegedly filmed himself having sex with another cadet and broadcasting it to his peers in an adjacent room.
The 18-year-old female RAAF cadet spoke of her sense of betrayal and abuse on Tuesday as the federal police and Defence investigators launched an investigation. She alleges she had consensual sex with the fellow cadet who was broadcasting their moment of intimacy by webcam to his mates in a separate room.
UPDATE: Defence Minister Stephen Smith said this afternoon that the ADF will not tolerate conduct that was sexist, vilified women or was indecent or uncivilised. He also said it was possible the female cadet could face disciplinary action.
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“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
“Ragheads’‘, “dune coons’‘, “sand niggaz’’ and “smelly locals’‘. Last night we were exposed to ADF soldiers with experience in Afghanistan acting in prejudicial, discriminatory, racist ways. That is what we call it in the civilian world.
A group of soldiers, some who have served overseas in contemporary conflicts, and apparently some who are serving, have allegedly posted their discontent on the social networking site Facebook. They have expressed their disdain, their hatred of the Afghanis, their racist and pejorative perspective of those they are charged to ‘liberate’ and their insubordination to their boss, Lieutenant General Gillespie.
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The stomach clenches with a cold nausea. The lip curls in disgust. It’s the same visceral reaction I had to pictures like the one below that emerged from Abu Ghraib; the images that made the idea of winning hearts and minds in Iraq a cruel joke.
Now, Der Spiegel has published three pictures of US soldiers, posing with the bodies of civilians they allegedly killed. One grins. The German news magazine says it has thousands more ‘trophy shots’.
The soldiers are described as ‘rogue’ – as opposed to ‘sanctioned’. But of course this is just another one-off atrocity. Isn’t it? Just Americans, right?
Not right. Not one off.
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I read with glee this week the news that the Rudd government is reviewing the role of women in the Defence Force.
For some reason this always gets me riled.
Call me a bra-burning feminist with hairy under-arms and a Subaru if you like, but it appears to me that men don’t want women in the military because they are scared of themselves.
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It is safe to assume that Australia has the only high court in the world to have an important case of constitutional and military law decided over an incident of “teabagging.”
Following the High Court’s decision in Lane v Morrison on the illegitimacy of the Australian Military Court, the practice of “teabagging” will be forever etched in the legal lexicon of this country.
While Big Brother’s turkeyslapping incident introduced us to genital based attempts at humour taking hold of the national agenda, turkeyslapping was only brought up in Parliament while teabagging made it all the way to the High Court - and won.
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