CORPORAL Ben Roberts-Smith remembers with great clarity little moments from the battle of Shah Wali Kot in Afghanistan.
He remembers lying on his back as Taliban bullets cracked around him and seeing leaves falling off the trees above him. It took a second to register that it was the rounds ripping the leaves off the branches as enemy gunfire swept back and forth.
Most of all he remembers coming face to face with two Taliban fighters, a split second before he shot them dead.
Yesterday [23 January] he was awarded Australia's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross of Australia, for his actions at Shah Wali Kot on June 11 last year.
He has previously been awarded Australia's third-highest military gong, the Medal of [sic] Gallantry, for his part in another action in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province in May 2006, making him the only Australian to have received both honours.
The towering 32-year-old father of five-month-old twin girls and a young son was presented the Victoria Cross by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, at his Special Air Service regiment's home base, Campbell Barracks, in Perth.
''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.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said at the ceremony that while he exhibited humility, mateship, and love of family, Corporal Roberts-Smith was different. ''He will always know, as we know now, that in the heat of battle he did not fail when mateship and duty called.''
He was awarded the VC for actions as a patrol second-in-command with the Special Operations Task Group.
The investiture was also watched by his wife, Emma, the Chief of Defence Force, Angus Houston, and a host of other politicians and military brass.
ZUI also this article - with a very interesting photo - from The Australian. The citations for Roberts-Smith's VC and Medal for Gallantry, along with his official biography, can be found here.
Corporal, Australian Special Sir Service
Born: 1 November 1978, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Citation: For the most conspicuous gallantry in action in circumstances of extreme peril as Patrol Second-in-Command, Special Operations Task Group on Operation SLIPPER.
Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in 1996. After completing the requisite courses, he was posted the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment where he saw active service in East Timor. In January 2003, he successfully completed the Australian Special Air Service Regiment Selection Course.
During his tenure with the Regiment, he deployed on Operation VALIANT, SLATE, SLIPPER, CATALYST and SLIPPER II. Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his actions in Afghanistan in 2006.
On the 11th June 2010, a troop of the Special Operations Task Group conducted a helicopter assault into Tizak, Kandahar Province, in order to capture or kill a senior Taliban commander.
Immediately upon the helicopter insertion, the troop was engaged by machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from multiple, dominating positions. Two soldiers were wounded in action and the troop was pinned down by fire from three machine guns in an elevated fortified position to the south of the village. Under the cover of close air support, suppressive small arms and machine gun fire, Corporal Roberts-Smith and his patrol manoeuvred to within 70 metres of the enemy position in order to neutralise the enemy machine gun positions and regain the initiative.
Upon commencement of the assault, the patrol drew very heavy, intense, effective and sustained fire from the enemy position. Corporal Roberts-Smith and his patrol members fought towards the enemy position until, at a range of 40 metres, the weight of fire prevented further movement forward. At this point, he identified the opportunity to exploit some cover provided by a small structure.
As he approached the structure, Corporal Roberts-Smith identified an insurgent grenadier in the throes of engaging his patrol. Corporal Roberts-Smith instinctively engaged the insurgent at point-blank range resulting in the death of the insurgent. With the members of his patrol still pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his patrol, which enabled them to bring fire to bear against the enemy. His actions enabled his Patrol Commander to throw a grenade and silence one of the machine guns. Seizing the advantage, and demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry, Corporal Roberts-Smith, with a total disregard for his own safety, stormed the enemy position killing the two remaining machine gunners.
His act of valour enabled his patrol to break-in to the enemy position and to lift the weight of fire from the remainder of the troop who had been pinned down by the machine gun fire. On seizing the fortified gun position, Corporal Roberts-Smith then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another patrol member engaged and killed further enemy. His acts of selfless valour directly enabled his troop to go on and clear the village of Tizak of Taliban. This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the Taliban in Shah Wali Kot District to retreat from the area.
Corporal Roberts-Smith’s most conspicuous gallantry in a circumstance of extreme peril was instrumental to the seizure of the initiative and the success of the troop against a numerically superior enemy force. His valour was an inspiration to the soldiers with whom he fought alongside and is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.