16 January 2009

Australian VC awarded for Afghan service


Left to right: The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia; Keith Payne VC; Tpr Mark Donaldson VC; Mrs Emma Donaldson and daughter Kaylee; and Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

ZUI this article from Bloomberg.com:
An Australian special forces soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross, the nation’s highest military honor, for courage during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

Trooper Mark Donaldson deliberately drew enemy fire away from his wounded colleagues and rescued an Afghan interpreter when coalition forces were ambushed in Uruzgan province in September last year, according to the Ministry of Defence.

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Donaldson is the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, which replaced the Imperial Victoria Cross in 1991. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry,” acts of valor or self-sacrifice and “extreme devotion to duty.”

The Imperial Victoria Cross was awarded to 96 Australians, most recently in 1969 to Warrant Officer Keith Payne for gallantry during the Vietnam War.

ZUI also this article from the Sydney Morning Herald:
For two hours, bullets and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on Mark Donaldson and his fellow soldiers. The coalition convoy had been attacked as it travelled through Oruzgan Province in Afghanistan, and many men died.

All they could do was shoot back. Trooper Donaldson ran between positions, firing his rifle, launching anti-armour weapons and exposing himself to enemy fire to draw attention away from wounded soldiers.

As coalition vehicles moved away from the ambush, he ran next to them so the injured men could sit inside. But when they reached safety, Trooper Donaldson realised that a badly wounded interpreter had been left behind.

He ran 80 metres back, exposing himself to "intense and accurate" machine-gun fire to rescue the interpreter. He carried him to a vehicle and performed first aid before returning to the fight.

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The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Trooper Donaldson's actions were the stuff of legend. The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, called him an inspiration.

After receiving the award from Ms Bryce at Government House in Canberra, little more than four months after the ambush, the serving soldier said he did not see himself as a hero.

"I see myself as a soldier first and foremost and that's it … I don't wear this just for my action; it's also for my mates that were there and my mates that are also serving now."

And ZUI this media release from the Australian Department of Defence:
The Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, today saluted Trooper Mark Donaldson as he became the first Australian in almost forty years to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said the Victoria Cross for Australia was the nation’s highest military honour and was presented only to those who displayed the most conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy.

“Today is a momentous day for the Australian Defence Force and for Trooper Donaldson,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

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Air Chief Marshal Houston said tradition held that even the most senior officer saluted a Victoria Cross recipient as a mark respect for their act of valour.

“It will be my great honour from this day forth to salute Trooper Mark Donaldson, VC,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, congratulated Trooper Donaldson on behalf of all members of the Australian Army.

An Australian government fact sheet regarding the Victoria Cross for Australia can be found here.
The Victoria Cross for Australia was introduced as part of the Australian honours system in 1991. It replaced the Imperial Victoria Cross. The Imperial Victoria Cross was created by The Queen in 1856 and made retrospective to 1854 to cover the period of the Crimea War.

Until the Victoria Cross for Australia was created in 1991, Australians were eligible for the Victoria Cross and other awards under the Imperial system of honours. As yet no Victoria Cross for Australia has been awarded.

The Imperial Victoria Cross has been awarded to 96 Australians. Ninety received the Victoria Cross while serving with Australian units and six received the award while serving with other units.

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The most recent Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross was Warrant Officer Keith Payne VC for gallantry during the Vietnam War (24 May 1969).

In addition to Tpr Donaldson, there are now nine surviving VC holders:
WO Tul Bahadur Pun VC, 6th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1944
Flt Lt John A Cruickshank VC, RAFVR - North Atlantic, 1944
Hav Lachhiman Gurung VC, 8th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1945
Pte Edward Kenna VC, Australian Imperial Force - New Guinea, 1945
Sgt William Speakman VC, The Black Watch - Korea, 1951
Capt Ram Bahadur Limbu VC MVO, 10th Gurkha Rifles - Borneo, 1965
WO Keith Payne VC OAM, Australian Army - Vietnam, 1969
Pte Johnson G Beharry VC, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment - Iraq, 2004
Cpl Bill H Apiata VC, New Zealand SAS - Afghanistan, 2004

Update 1154 23 Jan 09: ZUI also this article from the Canberra Times ("Display of courage: latest VC on show"), this one from the Sydney Morning-Herald ("Grateful nation has a go at killing VC with kindness") and this one from The Age ("Guardians' hearts swell at young man who overcame").

Update 1211 7 Feb 09: ZUI also this article from The Australian:
The war is over for SAS trooper Mark Donaldson. If history is any guide, being awarded the nation's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, is the kiss of death for a career in frontline service.

Donaldson, 29, who last month became Australia's first Victoria Cross recipient in 40 years after saving a wounded army interpreter while under enemy fire in southern Afghanistan in September, has requested a return to the battlefield.

But like his Kiwi counterpart SAS Corporal Willie Apiata, who has worked as an SAS instructor in New Zealand since he was awarded the VC in 2007 for saving a comrade in Afghanistan, his fighting days seem to be over. They are casualties of their unexpected fame as recipients of the venerated decoration.

Former special forces warrant officer Keith Payne, the previous Australian to be awarded the VC, said his request to return to combat operations in Vietnam, after he was awarded the medal for leading 40 wounded soldiers to safety while under heavy enemy fire in 1969, was refused.

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Defence also played down any notion of an imminent return to active service for Trooper Donaldson, who, along with Mr Payne, 75, and World War II VC winner Edward Kenna, 89, is one of only three living Australian recipients of the award.

Trooper Donaldson is keen to return to work with the SASR. However, any date for that return is being influenced by the current media and public interest in him being awarded the VC," a spokeswoman said. "Trooper Donaldson's future employment will be managed carefully."

This week, Australia's 97th bearer of the VC was back at regiment headquarters at Swanbourne Barracks in Perth, attempting to resume life as an elite Digger.


Photograph © Commonwealth of Australia 2009. Other photos can be found here.

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MARK GREGOR STRANG DONALDSON

Trooper, Australian Special Air Service

Born: 2 April 1979, Waratah, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Died: TBD

Citation: For most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operation SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Trooper Mark Gregor Donaldson enlisted into the Australian Army on 18 June 2002. After completing Recruit and Initial and Employment Training he was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. Having successfully completed the Special Air Service Selection Course in April 2004, Trooper Donaldson was posted to Special Air Service Regiment in May 2004.
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.

1 comment:

The Book Chook said...

How wonderful to see mention of this hero on your blog, James. He went to school in Dorrigo, a town not far from us on the east coast of NSW, so that makes me feel a kinship with him.