21 June 2011
I rise to express my condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case and Lance Corporal Andrew Jones.
I also wish to offer my condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Brett Wood and Sapper Rowan Robinson.
The Australian War Memorial is less than 4,000m from here.
Etched on its walls are the names of the 102,734 men and women who have laid down their lives in the service of our nation.
Four more men now join this list.
And like the names they join, each of these men has their own story, their own family, and their own legacy they leave behind.
Sergeant Brett Wood
Sergeant Brett Wood lived an extraordinary life.
He served across the world; in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and on three tours to Afghanistan.
His many decorations speak of his courage, among them the Medal for Gallantry and a posthumously awarded United States Meritorious Service Medal.
Brett was a Commando – one of the Australian Army’s most highly trained and important roles.
He did that job since 1998.
His 13 years in the Special Forces involved some of the most difficult and dangerous work Australian forces have been asked to do.
According to those who knew him well though – he wasn’t one to boast about it.
At his funeral his wife Elvi said:
“To say Brett was humble is an understatement. He did not want to be defined by his achievements and introduced himself as just an ordinary guy. His most frequent expression was ‘no big deal’.”
But he wasn’t an ordinary guy.
He will be remembered as a decorated soldier – dedicated to the service of his country.
And his death is a ‘big deal’ for all Australians.
Lance Corporal Andrew Jones
So is the death of Lance Corporal Andrew Jones.
The photo on TV and in the newspapers of Lance Corporal Jones – butcher’s knife and sharpening steel across his chest – tells us something very important.
The work of our troops is not just done in the fields and in mountains of Afghanistan.
It’s also done in kitchens and garages, in hospitals and hangars.
And in remote Forward Operating Bases like FOB MASHAL in the Chora Valley where Lance Corporal Jones was killed.
That he was taken from us by the actions of a rouge Afghan soldier makes his loss all the more painful and difficult to accept. This is made no easier by the news yesterday of the death of the Afghan soldier who did this.
The Commander of Australian forces in the Middle East, Major General Angus Campbell said:
“Lance Corporal Jones …chose to take the challenge of working in a patrol base and he underwent additional weapons and other training to be part of the small, tight-knit teams that support our troops.”
“The efforts of people like Lance Corporal Jones often go unrecognised, but they are much loved and respected for their contribution.”
His efforts certainly do not go unrecognised in this place.
They are appreciated, his sacrifice is remembered and his service is honoured by us all.
In the words of Brigadier David Mulhall:
”He was a bloody good soldier and bloody great cook.”
And he’ll be remembered as such.
Our thoughts are also with the family – the five brothers and sisters – and the parents of Lieutenant Marcus Case who was killed when the Chinook he was in crashed in Afghanistan last month.
He was a young man who packed a lot of living into a short life.
Many soldiers aspire to be a Special Forces Commando. Some to be an Army Aviator.
Lieutenant Case was both. He served as a Commando on his first deployment to East Timor in 2007 – and as an Aviator on his deployment to Afghanistan.
Between both deployments he was involved in another very important mission.
He was part of Operation Queensland Flood Assist in January this year, flying reconnaissance missions across effected areas in a Kiowa helicopter.
No wonder his family were so proud of him. At his funeral his brother Chris said:
“We are thankful he was born into our family”
They said he had a heart of gold.
He will be remembered as a soldier, a pilot, a mate and a son.
We are grateful for his service, and our thoughts remain with his family.
Finally, can I take this opportunity to remember Sapper Rowan Robinson.
As a Sapper he did one of the toughest jobs in Afghanistan.
Not only combat construction, demolition and explosive work – but all the other work of a soldier.
Two weeks ago his unit uncovered one of the largest weapons caches found by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan this year.
As they moved to the second part of the mission Sapper Robinson was shot.
…He was providing covering fire for his mates.
At his funeral his father said:
“He was someone that others looked to when things got tough”.
You can understand why.
His unit commander said this about Sapper Robinson:
“He epitomised everything it means to be a special operations engineer… everything that one could be, he personified: bravery, mateship and a willingness to risk one’s life so that others may live on… These were his qualities….”
He was a brave soldier.
He was also a son. I’m told that even while deployed in Afghanistan – Sapper Robinson organised to send his mum flowers on Mother’s Day.
We remember his commitment to his family alongside his commitment to his country.
His father made this promise at his funeral:
“We will be there every Remembrance Day and Anzac Day to honour you and your fallen mates til the day we die.”
Sapper Robinson’s family won’t be there alone.
As a nation we will pause to remember Sapper Rowan Robinson every Remembrance Day and every Anzac Day.
Just as we’ll remember
• Lieutenant Marcus Sean Case
• Lance Corporal Andrew Jones
• Sergeant Brett Wood
• And the names of the other 23 others who have fallen in Afghanistan – inscribed on our hallowed wall of remembrance.
In the space of four weeks, the loss of four young Australians – forever lost – has an impact.
Understandably it has caused some to question why we are in Afghanistan – and how long we will remain.
In these dark moments it is important to remember why we are in Afghanistan.
We are there because it is in our national interest to be there.
It is in our national interest to be there because the threat posed by an unstable Afghanistan reaches far beyond its own borders.
It affects its neighbours.
It affects us.
We all remember where we were on September 11.
We remember where we were when we heard about the Bali bombings.
And we also have to remember where these terrible acts were planned and who the men that planned them are.
We are one of 48 countries are contributing to the same effort – under the mandate of the United Nations.
We are all there for the same reason – the threat posed to all countries by an Afghanistan where malign forces can take root again.
As I said in the debate about our involvement in Afghanistan last year – we can’t pretend that what happens in Afghanistan doesn’t affect us here in Australia. It does. And because it does – it is right that we are there.
And that’s why our troops are there today.
That’s why their work requires our support in the good times and the bad.
That’s what these men we honour today would expect of us.
Our responsibility is to be worthy of them and of their sacrifice.
And to honour their memory with deeds not just words.
Lest we forget.