Major General John Cantwell (Ret) served in the Australian Army from 1974 to 2012. Rising from the rank of Private to Major General he was on the shortlist to become the Chief of Army following successful command in the Middle East. Instead the PTSD that had long haunted him through two decades took hold and he chose to end his vaunted military career. In the aftermath he wrote Exit Wounds which detailed his war experiences, as a senior commander who had seen combat first hand his openness about PTSD and struggles with it remind all that it is a very real concern and more should be done to help our veterans in our war weary nations.
General Cantwell was born 1956 in Toowoomba, Queensland and was a cadet as a kid. He joined the Army in 1974 and served in the Military Intelligence Corps where he met his wife. Jane hit with a dart at the pub while they were both serving at Kapooka – it was love at first sight. As a Sergeant, humping it on exercise one day he saw a tank coming flying out of nowhere, an Armoured Corps Officer standing straight up in the hatch as he rolled on by – that was love at first sight too. Attending Officer Cadet School at Portsea in 1981 he was commissioned into the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. On exchange with the British Army in 1990 he hoped to get sent to Saudi Arabia for the first major war in a generation. Small Australian Peace Keeping Contingents had been sent to Rhodesia, the Sinai and Namibia but this was the first war since Vietnam and Cantwell got his wish. He was allocated to an M113 Communications Bradley Armoured Personnel Carrier with two crew members where he would effectively liaise between British and American forces as they moved forward in the 100 hour ground war. Major Cantwell had been waiting and training his whole professional career for such an experience. The Allied Forces were outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Iraqi Army, the fourth largest in the world and the enemy had time to have dug in and fortified their positions. The Allies had air superiority and better equipment even if many had not seen combat and the Iraqi’s had fought the Iranians for over a decade. Decisions had to be made, tough ones but ones that are always made in war. After bombing and shelling, the allies moved forward and bulldozed any remaining Iraqi troops entrenched to negate the use of the enemy’s land mines. They buried them dead or alive. The decency of the man Cantwell never made peace with this even as the tank officer rolled forward and did his job. There was soon a pile up of equipment due to a land mine concern. The Australian Major got out of his Bradley and walked through the dangerous area to map out a course for the congestion to get through all the while knowing he could potentially be blown to pieces. There were other adventures along the way. The Bradley crew often finding themselves alone in the Desert trying to get a picture of what was going on and relay it to fighting forces. Death was a constant and all around. Cantwell still can’t get the image out of his head of an Iraqi hand sticking up through the sand. There were moments of humour though including one where the Officer aimed up on a Scorpion with his pistol before his British Squaddie killed it with a shovel.
Major Cantwell returned home a bonafide war veteran to an Army that had them in short supply. The Gulf War had been a success and the quickness of the 100 hour ground war led to much ignorance as to how dangerous it had been. The bulk of Australian forces committed to the Gulf were Naval, people who knew what he had gone through were on the other side of the world but fortunately there were still some who remembered Vietnam and their own combat fatigue. Life and his career went on and he eventually found himself Commander of the 1st Brigade in Townsville. When a posting for Iraq came up he wondered if a deployment to that part of the world would lay some demons to rest. Brigadier General John Cantwell went to Iraq in 2006 as the Director of Strategic Operations in Headquarters Multi National Forces Iraq. He worked hard in the job and was duly rewarded with several accolades including becoming the first Australian to be promoted in the field to Major General in 60 years. There were other moments though which proved much harder. A shelling of his compound while he was on his phone to his wife in his room. The ground shaking, death possibly near telling your spouse that you love them while they are on the other side of the world would not have been possible decades ago but was something Jane and John went through in modern war. A missile went past him during another attack on the steps of a palace before and he and others moved forward to a market where several had been slain. The smell of the same perfume found at the scene will take him back there years later.
He was also Chief of Operations during the Victorian Bushfires in 2009 where 173 people died and 414 were injured. In 2010 he served as Commander of the Australian Forces in the Middle East Area of Operations (Joint Task Force 633). Regularly going out into the field to meet with troops and see firsthand what was going on. After a mistake had been made in the past with the return of an Australian soldier, Cantwell personally inspected every deceased. His tenure as Commander saw an increase in Australian fatalities in Afghanistan. 41 Australian soldiers have died while serving on Operations in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. In 2002 the first death occurred in Afghanistan, in 2007 there were 3, in 2008 there were 3, in 2009 there were 4. In 2010 Sappers of 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment Jacob Moreland, 21 and Darren Smith, 25 were killed by IEDs in June. Also in June, Privates Scott Palmer 27, Timothy Aplin 38, Benjamin Chuck 27 of 2nd Commando Regiment died when the U.S. Black Hawk they were on crashed during operations. In July, 23 year old Private Nathan Bewes of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment was killed by an IED. In August 29 year old Trooper Jason Brown of the SASR was shot during an engagement. Later in August 35 year old Grant Kirby and 21 year old Thomas Dale both Privates of 6RAR were killed by IED. On the 24th of August 2010 Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney of 6RAR was shot and killed during the Battle of Derapet. These were the soldiers who died during General Cantwell’s command of them and he made sure all of their bodies were returned safely to their families. It would be the final straw regarding his PTSD, Cantwell returned home and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership but he sought help and effectively ended his military career.
Following retirement in 2012 he has published two books Exit Wounds: One Australia’s War on Terror and Leadership in Action. The following is an extract from Exit Wounds about some of his feelings following Command of JTF633. “The rawness of the new memories sharpens images from the past. The old familiar demons invade my sleep and sometimes my waking hours. I see the hand of a man buried alive in Iraq. The thump and buzz of incoming artillery fire fill my ears. I am seized by the terror of leading soldiers across a dark, empty desert. My fingers feel the weight of a man’s head and I smell the stench of burnt flesh. The dread of death, so close, so immediate, hollows my chest, as it did when I forced shaking legs to walk past half-hidden mines. I am transported back to a Baghdad suburb where a car bomb in a marketplace left a little girl’s pink sandals floating in a pool of blood. I taste bile in my throat at the realisation that I have ordered men down a road that killed them. I feel like I’m losing it.” Exit Wounds is an important and fascinating read of his time in war but also the beginning of his journey of dealing with PTSD. Mr Cantwell remains an advocate for better mental health care for Australian veterans and is Patron or Ambassador of several organisations promoting this.
Major General John Cantwell, thank you for your service to the military and nation of Australia, thank you for your continued service to veterans and I wish you peace and happiness and many years of it to come.
Major Richard (Dick) Winters passed away 02JAN2011 aged 92 years.
He was a paratrooper and an officer during World War II with the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne. Most notably as a platoon commander within and then company commander of Easy Company who were the subject of the bestselling book written by historian Stephen E. Ambrose and published in the early 1990s. The book was then adapted into a television miniseries, it was called Band of Brothers.
Easy Company exploits as a result are well known including those of Winters himself who was often noted as a commander who led from the front. On D-Day he landed in France without a weapon or equipment “Not a good way to start begin a war.” he later recalled. Later that day he led twelve men in a successful attack of a German gun battery consisting of roughly 50 enemy and four 105mm Howitzers. The Howitzers were firing onto a causeway exit at Utah Beach where US troops had landed. The successful attack saved countless Allied lives. It’s still taught at West Point as a textbook assault on a fixed position. His war was just beginning, he later served in Operation Market Garden and was Battalion XO when the 101 famously held the line at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Sgt. Floyd Talbert, one of the many men under his command wrote to him a the end of the war “I would follow you into hell. When I was with you I knew everything was absolutely under control.” On the evening of 06JUN1944 Lt Winters lay down to sleep and made a promise to himself: if he lived through the war, he was going to find an isolated farm somewhere and spend the remainder of his life in peace and quiet. He did. Happily married for 52 years he leave behind his wife Ethel Estoppey and two children.
Talbert once wrote to him later in life “Do you remember the time you were leading us into Carentan? Seeing you in the middle of that road wanting to move was too much!…Dick this can go on and on. I have never discussed these things with anyone on this earth. The things we had are damn near sacred to me.” Talbert was and is right. Some things are sacred.
The artillery unit at Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera Qld is 1 Regiment Royal Australian Artillery. They have deployed gunners over the past decade on secondment to the British Army in Helmland Province, Afghanistan. 105 Battery is part of the Regiment which fired in support of 6RAR at the Battle of Long Tan. The regiment has a long proud history dating back to World War One. However their lines are named Barce and in a building within those lines hangs a flag in memory of victory won long ago in another war. 2/1st Field Regiment was raised on 31OCT1939 in Ingleburn, NSW. They were the namesake of 1 Field Regiment from World War I which saw action at Gallipoli and in France. 2/1 Field were sent to North Africa to fight with the 6th Australian division which was the first of the Australian divisions to be raised and sent to fight in this new war. It was in North Africa that something truly unique took place for an artillery unit.
05FEB1941 D Troop was sent forward to occupy a position with an OP overlooking the town of Barce and the coastal road. Its object was to engage any enemy moving westward from Barce but htat escape route was devoid of all signs of life. The town of Barce was alive though and the troop commander Captain Vickery looked in vain for the customary white surrender flag. He bracketed the town, one round plus, one round minus, still no white flag. He shortened the plus range a little, fired and up went a white flag. Lieutenant Lester and four O.R.s (Other Ranks) clambered down the escarpment, and were met by a group from the town carrying a white and the town flag which they handed to our boys, they in turn accepted the surrender on behalf of 2/1 FLD Regt and the Army of the Nile. That town flag resides at the Barce Lines today.
Later on a more formal surrender was taken by the 2 I/C Major Young. At 7:3opm the town was handed over to 6 Div Provost Company. During its short period of control, and with only the threat of its guns somewhere up on the escarpment, the Regiment supressed a Bedouin uprising. It also took great delight in arranging a formal welcome for the infantry, the 2/8th Battalion, when they entered the town. Barce was the last town of any size to be taken before Benghazi.
The story that circulated in the regiment, was that this was the first time in the history of the British Empire that Regiment of Field Artillery had captured and taken surrender of a town without any assistance from any other branch of the armed services.
Disputing or confirming this is irrelevant to the true significance of the battle.
Bardia which was Australia’s first major battle of World War II had just taken place and 2/1st Field Regiment had served on the gun line throughout the entire battle. Taking Tobruk from the Italians had been next. 2/1st Field Regiment would go on to fight in Greece and through two campaigns in New Guinea. By war’s end 77 members had been wounded and 33 members had died.
But as the men of 2/1 Field Regiment went to bed on the night of the 5th of February, 1941 they could sleep having taken a town with no deaths of their own, the enemy or civilian.
It was a great victory.
Haywood, E.V. 1959. Six Years in Support : History of the 2/1 Field Regiment. Angus and Robertson.
The 11th of June 2006 changed British military history but for those that were there it was just about doing the job and taking care of their own.
Growing up in the midlands Pte Norris wanted to be a soldier. She applied to join Artillery but narrowly missed passing her fitness exam. A year of college later she aced the fitness exam but chose the Royal Army Medical Corps. 9 months of training followed before being posted to Germany where she put her hand up to go to Iraq.
She was attached to the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales Regiment, the only woman amongst 300 men. There she met Colour Sgt Ian Page who was having his birthday shortly after she got there. ” When he told me how old he was, I told him he was old enough to be my father, and he said don’t be cheeky, but after that, I always called him dad and he always called me daughter,” Pte Morris explains. During a night operation in Al-Amarah with Warrior vehicles the British forces were attacked. ” I heard a big bang up front and the driver said the commander [Page] had been hit. I asked if he was okay and nobody spoke. I told the other guys to let me out. I managed to climb up the outside of the vehicle and down through the turret. ” Pte Morris recalls. While she climbed up the side of the Warrior she was fired upon by snipers. One bullet hit her rucksack. ” I suppose I knew there were bullets, but I didn’t know how many and you don’t think, I need to be brave, you think, “I just need to get to him.‟.” explains Morris of her courage under fire.
She found Sgt Page who had been shot in the mouth, looking steadily upwards at her, trying to tell her what to do, staying calm as the shock of a gunshot wound to his face spread through his body. This 18 year old 5foot tall rookie was just eight weeks into her first deployment and had never treated anything more serious than an infected mosquito bite. ” I was worried that I would forget my training, but just looking at him lying there, it all fell into place and I knew I could do it.” says Morris. She administered first aid for three minutes with rounds landing all around her before other soldiers helped her drag Page inside the vehicle.
Following a medical evac by Lynx helicopter Sgt Page went on to make a full recovery. Her commanding officer recommended that she receive a medal for her bravery and she became the first woman ever to receive the Military Cross . The Military Cross is the third highest gallantry medal in the British armed forces equivalent to our Medal of Gallantry.
Lance Corporal Morris MC still serves in the British Army today.
General Ngo Quang Truong was born to a well to do family in the Mekong Delta in 1929 and after attending college he went to officer school and received his commission in 1954 serving the next 12 years in the elite airborne brigade which he would come to command. He first saw combat in 1955 to eliminate river pirates from the surrounding area of Saigon.
In the 1960s the war with north would heat up and Colonel Truong as he was then scored a series of victories against the communists. This included a period of time when a US advisor was assigned to the Airborne by the name of Major Schwarzkopf who would later as General Schwarzkopf command forces in the Persian Gulf War. He observed that Truong was the most brilliant tactical commander I‘d ever known. – Simply by visualizing the terrain and drawing on his experience fighting the enemy for 15 years, Truong showed an uncanny ability to predict what they were going to do,” Schwarzkopf wrote. He recalled a battler where Truong clearly anticipated the enemy‘s movements throughout the day. At the end of it they had captured large stockpiles of weapons, killed many of the enemy for few losses of their own. It was a great victory and Schwarzkopf was happy but Truong sat to the side emotionless smoking his cigarettes. He had been fighting the communists a long time.
Troung a Buddhist was put in charge of quelling demonstrations by Buddhists protesting military control of the government. He was not comfortable with his job but he carried it out professionally and was permanently given command of 1st Infantry Division. A poor unit before his command of it other noted American generals of the Vietnam war referred to his division as equal to any American unit.
Unlike some South Vietnamese generals who had grown rich as they ascended the ranks, Truong was impeccably honest and, according to a close friend, led a “spartan and ascetic” life. Lieutenant General Cushman recalled that the general didn’t own a suit, and that his wife kept pigs behind his modest quarters in the military compound in Can Tho. As Cushman further described Truong, “He was imaginative and always looked for ways to improve his troops’ living conditions and family life.”
A humble man, Truong was an unselfish individual devoted to his profession. He was fiercely loyal to his subordinates, and was known for taking care of his soldiers, often flying through heavy fire to stand with them in the rain and mud during enemy attacks. He treated everyone the same and did not play favorites. There is a story that he refused to respond to a request to give his nephew a noncombat assignment, only to have the nephew later die in battle.
During the Tet Offensive of 1968, General Truong commanded the 1st Division during some of the war’s bloodiest fighting in Hue. Two nights before the offensive began, Truong, at his head-quarters in the old Imperial capital, sensed something amiss and put his troops on alert. When the night passed uneventfully, he dismissed his advisers but kept his troops ready.
His Hac Bao reaction company managed to hold his division headquarters compound and from there he directed the battle calling for reinforcements and directing them where to strike. Together, the U.S Marines and South Vietnamese soldiers and marines fought house to house to force the enemy out of the area. As usual, Truong had performed magnificently, directing his troops in a calm but charismatic fashion. Lieutenant General Cushman, who became his close friend after working with him, described Truong’s performance during the battle: “He survived with the enemy all around him. They never took his command post, but they took the rest of the Citadel.”
His greatest achievement ultimately occurred in 1972 during the Easter Offensive. The North Vietnamese launched an attacking force of 14 infantry divisions, 26 separate regiments, 1,200 troops and more than 120,000 troops. They succeeded in taking their goal of Quang Tri the first provincial capital to fall and pushed farther south.
Realising what was at stake General Truong was ordered to take command of I Corps by President Nguyen Van Thieu. Arriving in the area his mere presence gave new hope to the South Vietnamese troops. He devised a comprehensive defence in depth to halt the North Vietnamese Army‘s advance which would buy him time as he retrained South Vietnamese units that had been battered during the retreat and re-equipped them with new American gear using an accelerated training pro-gram. Launching a counter offensive in May with 3 divisions and US airpower and naval shelling Troung defended South Vietnam from invasion. It was a deliberate and slow process, but Truong’s forces routed six NVA divisions to retake Quang Tri on September 16.
Sadly it was not to be so again three years later. The North Vietnamese returned and defences in the Central Highlands collapsed. Truong was ordered to defend Hue and set about doing it but then a week followed of debate and accusations conflicting orders followed. Truong was ordered to abandon Hue until at the last minute this was countermanded. Because of conflicting orders, lack of preparation and collapse of morale the withdrawal from Hue became a disaster. Reaching Da Nang Truong tried to direct an evacuation by sea but panic had set in.
As Da Nang fell, he and his corps staff swam through the surf to the rescuing fleet of South Vietnamese boats. Truong was devastated by the loss of his forces, particularly his beloved ARVN 1st Division. Upon arriving in Saigon, he was reportedly hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. A U.S. Army officer who had worked closely with Truong heard what happened, tracked him down and arranged for his family to leave on an American ship as Saigon fell to the Communists. The family was split for some time before being all tracked down in America and reunited. After reuniting, Truong and his family moved to Falls Church, Va.
Many Australian and American troops came from the war in Vietnam which was known as the first war our countries had lost. Not necessarily accurate but it was hard thing to deal with for some of our troops. The one thing we did not have to deal with that Truong like so many of his fellow South Vietnamese soldiers had to was that they could not go home. They had not just been on the losing side of a war that they had fought for so long and given up so much for but they had also lost their countries, their homes. True to his character though Truong got on with living a good life in his adopted country. Once settled there, he wrote several historical studies on the Vietnam War for the U.S. Army Centre of Military History. In 1983, the same year that he became a U.S. citizen, he moved to Springfield, Va. He worked as a computer analyst for the Association of American Railroads for 10 years until he retired in 1994. He died due to cancer in 2007. Shortly after his death, the Virginia Legislature passed a Joint Resolution “Celebrating the Life of Ngo Quang Truong.”
Schwarzkopf wrote of him “He did not look like my idea of a military genius: only five feet seven…very skinny, with hunched shoulders and a head that seemed too big for his body….His face was pinched and intense…and there was always a cigarette hanging from his lips. Yet he was revered by his officers and troops—and feared by those North Vietnamese commanders who knew of his ability.”
Two decades before he was recognised as a citizen of his country he fought for it in two wars. He couldn’t vote in his own country where his people had been for thousands of years. This was nothing new. His father Walter (Chris) Saunders and uncle William Reginald Rawlings MM had done so before him in the Great War, the uncle not returning home. His family would continue to pay a cost for serving the nation. His brother Harry Saunders would die at Kokoda and his first marriage would not withstand his time away in Korea. What did change was that he became the first Aboriginal to be commissioned into the Australian Army going on to command 100 men in combat.
He was born in Victoria of the Gunditjmara people and worked in a sawmill from a young age. In 1940 he joined the Australian Imperial Force immediately displaying natural leadership skill, in 6 weeks he was promoted to Lance Corporal and within 3 months he had made Sergeant. He was posted to the 2/7th Battalion after training where his rank reverted to Private and he went to Benghazi and then the island of Crete. The 2/7th took part in the fighting around Canae and temporarily checked the German advance with a bayonet charge on 42nd street. As the Allies evacuated, Saunders’ unit fought rearguard actions and were left behind. Most were taken prisoner, a few hid out in the hills and caves of the islands relying on help from the locals. Saunders was one who evaded capture for 12 months and managed to escape rejoining the 2/7th.
He next fought in the Salamaua-Lae campaing where as a platoon sergeant he took command of the platoon when the platoon commander was wounded. Subsequently his commanding officer recommended that he receive a commission. This caused the Army some trepidation given “its special significance” but Saunders completed sixteen weeks of training back in Australia and received his commission. During training he shared a tent with Victoria Cross winner Tom Derrick.
He returned to New Guinea and was a platoon commander during the Aitape-Wewak campaign with the 2/7th serving until the end of the war. He was hospitalised for 3 weeks after being wounded by Japanese gunfire at Maprik.
Rejected for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan, he was a shipping clerk and builder’s labourer following the war. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea he rejoined the Army and was allocated to 3RAR rising to the lofty heights of Captain. He commanded C Company during the Battle of Kapyong April 22nd to April 25 (ANZAC Day) 1951. At Kapyong, a Brigade of United Nations Force stalled the advance of a whole Chinese division pivotally avoiding a breakthrough on the UN’s Command Central Front. 3RAR was subsequently awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation for their actions.
He oversaw training for national servicemen after returning from Korea but he left the Army in 1954 going to work first in the logging industry and then for the next decade in the Austral Bronze company. Saunders also became involved in the Returned and Services League. In 1967 be became an Aboriginal Liaison Officer in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of June 1971 his community work was recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division). He passed away in 1990 leaving behind 8 of his 10 children. Two had sadly predeceased him.
He was the first Aboriginal serviceman to command a Rifle Company, and was respected and popular with his men. His biographer and friend, Harry Gordon, an Australian journalist in Korea, wrote of him “He was accepted unreservedly by the men who served with him because false values do not flourish among front-line soldiers.”
“You don’t understand…but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.“” Squad leader Erick Gallardo to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta.
Salvatore Giunta was born in the state of Iowa in 1985. At age 17 while working at a Subway store he saw a commercial where Army recruiters were giving away free T-shirts at the local mall. He had always been a sucker for a free T-shirt. He was enlisted in November 2003 serving two tours in Afghanistan. Giunta was Airborne. His unit the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
The first deployment from March 2005 to March 2006 left a mark on him. “It’s one thing to see someone dead. But it’s another thing to see an American soldier, or someone you know. They’re at their strongest moments of their life and it is just… gone from them.” he said of an IED attack 21AUG2005 that killed four and seriously wounded another.
On September 1, 2005, Lieutenant [Derek Haines] died in the Baylough area, and that made me really feel my own mortality at 19 or 20. My team leader, Nicholas Post, talked to me. He said, “It is what it is and you just got to try to do everything you can when it’s your time to do it. It might be you tomorrow. It might be me tomorrow. It might be, you know, all of us tomorrow. But that’s tomorrow.” I’ve pretty much taken that with me the rest of my life from the time we had that talk.” Staff Sgt Giunta.
His second deployment from May 2007 to July 2008 was to the Korengal Valley which has seen some of the most fierce fighting of the war.
During Operation Rock Avalanche on 25OCT2007 Giunta’s 1st Platoon was assigned overwatch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon as they went through a valley below. Following sunset 1st Platoon moved to head back to base and within going 100m they were ambushed by an enemy force firing AK-47s, RPGs and PKM machine guns. Sgt Joshua Brennan was walking point followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, rifle team leader Giunta and Privates First Class Kaleb Casey and PFC Garret Clary. Not far behind them was a HQ Unit.
When the Taliban opened fire Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by 4. The wall of fire coming from the enemy halted Gallardo’s attempts to move forward and then he was struck in the head and fell. Giunta ran over to him fearing the worst but fortunately it had struck the squad leader’s helmet. While they found cover Giunta was struck in the front of his vest and a round hit his SMAW slung over his back making them realise they were facing an L-shaped ambush. Giunta ordered Clary and Casey to pull back a few steps to prevent the enemy flanking them. It was now roughly 15 seconds into the engagement when Giunta, Casey, Clary and Gallardo alternated throwing fragmentation grenades to their west while moving north. They reached Eckrode who was wounded and attempting to unjam his weapon having continued to fire since being hit. Gallardo dressed Eckrode’s wounds and called for a MEDEVAC.
Giunta followed by Clary continued on to look for Brennan. It was then that Giunta saw two Taliban carrying away Sgt Brennan in the distance. Giunta gave chase engaging them with his own weapon. He shot dead one and the other fled. Giunta got to Brennan and pulled him towards the squad and cover and then went to treating him. Brennan was grievously hurt and 1st Platoon’s medic Specialist Hugo Mendoza had been shot in the leg in his femoral artery and had bled to death. While Clary stood guard, Gallardo had come running and he and Giunta found a slight dip where they could protect Brennan. The fighting continued around them as they went to work on Brennan. He was covered with gun shot and shrapnel wounds, with the worst being injuries to his face. He couldn’t breathe. They went through all of their first aid kits cutting apart their own clothing to stop the bleeding. 2nd and 3rd platoon arrived with their medics. Brennan was given a tracheotomy on the spot buying enough time for the medevac chopper and giving them all hope. Brennan was breathing and talking. “Dude, this time you’re really going to go home. You’re going to be drinking beers and telling your stories to the ladies.” Guinta told Brennan and he agreed ” Yeah. Yeah, I will.” Sergeant Joshua Brennan was one of Giunta’s best friends. Later that day he died while in surgery.
“They were better soldiers than me. That’s part of what gets me so much. I was with Brennan for the deployment before and he’s always been a better soldier than me. He was Alpha team leader. I was Bravo team leader. There’s a reason for that. Spc. Mendoza was a combat medic. He did everything we did, plus when we came back dehydrated, “Oh I’m this, oh I’m that, I have this blister Doc,’ he would fix it. He went above and beyond every single day.” Giunta has said of the two men who died that day.
He called his girlfriend Jennifer Lynn Mueller and his mother Rose as soon as he could for the distraction but he couldn’t tell them the details. Both knew from his voice that something terrible had happened and Jennifer had heard basics from another spouse. Even now most of what they have heard come from media reports.
16NOV2010 Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta was awarded at the White House the Congressional Medal of Honour. He was the first living recipient since the Vietnam War following 9 posthumous awards in that time. “It’s bittersweet for us,” said Salvatore’s father Steve Giunta. “We’re very proud of Sal. We can’t mention that enough, but in this event, two other soldiers were killed and that weighs heavy on us. You get very happy and very proud and then you start dealing with the loss as well. You can’t have one without the other.
“I have never gone to war alone,” Guinta has commented. ” I have never been in a fire fight alone and I’ve never felt alone in the Army. There were lots of other guys who did incredible stuff. The only reason I was able to do what I did is because they were doing everything they could do. They make it sound like so much of the bullets were focused on me. No. Bullets don’t discriminate. They were on every single man who was there. And now, you’re going to put a medal around my neck and shake my hand and congratulate me, and everyone’s going to be proud of me’ And I didn’t do anything other than what I was supposed to’ And I know two men who personally gave every single tomorrow they’ll every have.”. In June 2011 Giunta who had been stop lossed previously chose not to re-enlist and left the Army. Having married his girlfriend Jennifer in OCT2009 they had their first child, a daughter, born October 6, 2011. He and his wife moved to Colorado where he is a student at Colorado State University. Eckrode said of Guinta, “For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn’t be alive.”
Bryan Budd VC of 3PARA was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2006 for actions in Afghanistan. He was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for British forces serving in Afghanistan. There have been three, two of them posthumous.
A Belfast boy born in 1977 Bryan Budd joined the British Army in 1996 serving operationally in Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a member of the elite Pathfinder Platoon which carries out reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines. In JUN2006 Cpl Budd joined A Company, 3 PARA in the southern Afghanistan town of Sangin in Helmand Province.
The award was conferred for two cited incidents. In the first incident, on 27 July, Corporal Budd’s section was on a patrol when they identified and engaged two enemy gunmen on the roof of a building in the centre of Sangin. Without regard for his own safety, Corporal Budd led an assault where the enemy fire was heaviest. His gallant action allowed a wounded soldier to be evacuated to safety where he subsequently received life-saving treatment.
There was a second incident was from the 20 August 2006, when A Company, 3 PARA was located in the southern Afghanistan town of Sangin. Cpl Budd and his platoon were ordered to hold a small, isolated coalition outpost – dubbed a platoon house – to protect engineers blowing holes in a compound 500 metres away. The site was subject to almost daily Taliban onslaught for months. At the time in Sangin, British forces often embarked with a 70% chance of a fight. The platoon commander, Capt Hugo Farmer described patrols as “more like an advance to contact.” On the day, there were three sections on patrol, a total of 24 men, spread out in a head-high cornfield around the compound. Budd spotted four Taliban approaching, at a distance of 50 metres. With hand signals, Budd led his section in a flanking manoeuvre round to the cornfield’s outskirts to try to cut them off placing his men in an extended line to advance towards the enemy. But they were spotted and the Taliban opened fire on the troops. The British soldiers took heavy fire, kneeling or lying down trying to take cover. One soldier received a bullet in the shoulder, and another was shot in the nose.
Realising his section were taking heavy fire and were likely to be killed, Budd got up and rushed straight through the corn in the direction of the Taliban, now just 20 metres away. Budd opened up on them in fully automatic mode with his rifle, and contact was immediately lost, but the Taliban fire lessened and allowed the rest of his section to withdraw back to safety so the casualties could be treated.
After withdrawal, Budd was declared missing in action Capt Farmer, who had been hit by shrapnel, then reformed his platoon and led an attack on the Taliban positions with air support. An hour later, Budd was found beside three dead Taliban. Budd was badly wounded having suffered major internal haemorrhaging and had no pulse. The CSM recovered his body on a quad bike, but he was declared dead on arrival at the platoon house. Budd’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, described Budd at the time of his death as “an outstanding leader” who had a professional manner “that inspired confidence in all that worked with him“. Tootal said: “Bryan died doing the job he loved, leading his men from the front, where he always was. He was proud to call himself a paratrooper and we were proud to stand beside him.”
On the 14DEC2006 he was awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross and his widow Lorena Budd a clerk in 5 Regiment, Royal Artillery collected it at Buckingham Palace 07MAR2007.
29NOV2007 it was found by a military inquest that the fatal bullet on that day was a 5.56 NATO round which impacted on his back. Having acted quickly and selflessly Cpl Budd had charged forward into crossfire between the enemy and his men unfortunately being hit by one of their bullets. The covering fire which unfortunately proved fatal for him insured at the same time that his gallant actions were not in vain. Such things happen in war. It is nothing short of a tragedy. None the less Budd and the men he served with had done their jobs and performed bravely in a desperate situation. His actions were in keeping with the kind of selfless determined and brave deeds done by all VC recipients.
Bryan Budd was husband to his beautiful wife Lorena, father of their daughter Isabelle born in 2004. Lorena was 8 months pregnant with their second daughter Imogen. Lorena took great pride in him winning the VC but added when it had been revealed he had been put forward for the award “ He was a brilliant father and a brilliant husband. So regardless of what he is or isn’t awarded he will always be a hero to us.”
On the day that Bryan Budd stood up and charged the enemy turning the tide of the engagement he was due to return home to them in five days time. He never hesitated. His men lived. Such is the courage and acts of Victoria Cross winners.
The floor was covered in blood and human waste. Some of the children were picking up corn out of the human waste and eating it. -Sergeant Terry Pickard
There was a gap between two walls where the RPA were shooting into the compound and someone was shooting out of the compound. A few rounds came through the gap in the wall. That’s when I knew I was risking my life to save and protect others. -Private Paul Burke
We always remember that as a small victory. Despite all the [Rwandan Army] did to that mass of humanity, we got one little girl out of there. – Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans
The Rwandan soldiers were taking pot shots at him. He was confused. He didn’t know what to do. – Corporal Paul Jordan
My boots were filling up with his blood and he ended up in intensive care for a quite a while but he lived. -Lieutenant Robbie Lucas
I gave him a handover and came back up to our area to sit down and have a smoke. I really had to think hard about how to get back up again. One of the boys made me a brew and I started to shake. -Lieutenant Thomas Steve Tilbrook
The look of pure desperation and animal-like fear in the father’s dark, wide eyes will be burned into my memory forever. -Sergeant Terry Pickard
On the 22nd of April to the 24th of April, 1995, a 32 strong Australian force were witness to a massacre of thousands of people. Over the course of three days they worked under heavy fire collecting and treating victims. Men. Women. Children. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned with Rules of Engagement which would not allow them to intervene they instead tended to the wounded and saved lives where they could.
Rwanda is a small mountainous country in central Africa made up mostly of two ethnicities. The Hutu and the Tutsi. The Tutsi are the minority of the population but held a majority of privilege when the Rwanda was a Belgian colony. Following a long civil war which has seen numerous massacres carried out and people displaced like refugees in their own country the fighting came to an end. The Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the Hutu government and took power in July 1994.
In August 1994 the Australian troops as part of UNAMIR II arrived. Their mission was to provide medical support to the 5,500 strong UN Mission mostly made up of troops from other African nations. Internally displaced people’s camps were scattered across the country housing hundreds of thousands of people who has lost everything due to the long civil war and were refugees in their own country. The RPF newly named the Rwandan Patriotic Army wanted the camps closed. It was said that the camps sheltered former Hutu forces and were being used as bases from which to strike the RPA. At Kibeho, site of a massacre of Tutsis only the year before was an IDP camp of approximately 150,000 Hutus. The RPA moved 1,000 troops to Kibeho on the 18th of April, 1995 and herded the IDPs into a cordoned off area. On the 19th of April 1995, 32 personnel from the Australian Medical Support Force were dispatched by the UN to Kibeho joining a Zambian infantry company already on the site to help treat people. IDPs would be screened by the RPA at a checkpoint exiting the camp. There genocide survivors from past atrocities would point out individuals who would then be taken away and presumably executed. Shots were being fired and bodies were turning up although the RPA said they were firing into the air for crowd control purposes.
On the 22nd of April, 1995 the Australians arrived at Kibeho and found that many IDPs had been killed the night before. Either shot by the RPA or hacked by machetes inside the camp by Hutu militia members. The Hutu militia members were doing this to terrorise the refugees into remaining in the camps so as to protect them. The wounded were being treated in a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the Australians set up a medical station there. ” The floor was covered in blood and human waste. Some of the children were picking up corn out of the human waste and eating it. Some of the mothers did the same, but first re-cooked the corns in tins of water heated over their little fires. The RPA had cut off all food and water supplies to the camp five days earlier. Now the refugees were showing their sheer desperation to survive.”
While the medics worked, the Australian infantry sent with them for protection went out with stretchers and retrieved casualties. At 10am shots were fired towards the hospital and the Australian infantry commander Lt Steve Tilbrook ordered the Australians to move towards the Zambian company compound for protection due to its defensive fortifications. The RPA moved into the hospital and started shooting. In the IDP camp the refugees stampeded but the Rwandese troops had set up a cordon around the nearby valley and hunted down the refugees. The Zambian compound was swamped by people trying to escape and Lance Corporal Andy Miller was caught up in the rush. A guy came out of the crowd and started hitting him with a stick. Miller had his own get back stick and the two flogged the hell out of each other until both of their sticks broke. As Miller’s stick broke someone in the crowd threw a rock at him. He grabbed his rifle and cocked it as the crowd moved in and the rock thrower disappeared. He managed to get back to his men where he ordered them to fix bayonets until things calmed down and they were able to return to stretcher bearer duties.
Captain Carol Vaughan-Evans was in charge of the medical team who continued to work calling in for a medevac via helicopter. She and her team also took casualties out to the heli-pad several times coming under fire. While waiting at the heli-pad the Australians would sit in front of casualties shielding their bodies with their own. The RPA ordered Captain Vaughan-Evans and her team not to go to the MSF hospital. Repeatedly they did this even though they were told to stop or they would be killed. While carrying out life saving work on the casualties bullets landed directly around the medical personnel. As the massacre went on they began to run low on supplies. They could no longer throw away gloves after each patient but simply had to wash them in buckets of rain water. They ran out of alcohol swabs having to use water instead and in time IV fluids, morphine and the like also ran out.
Sgt Pickard kept a personal journal and noted some of the wounded he treated at Kibeho. The following is but one example of many.
This boy had walked up from the ward and tapped me on the arm. I was a little amused at first to see him grabbing at my shirtsleeve and wondered what he wanted. Then, when he turned sideways and pointed at the left-hand side of his chest, I understood clearly what he wanted. There was a medium-sized entry wound in the front left of his chest and when I turned him around I saw he had a very large exploded exit wound in the back left of his rib cage. All his shattered ribs were well exposed and I could clearly see his damaged lung. I stood for a moment absolutely stunned and wondered how the hell this boy was still alive with half of his chest missing, let alone being able to walk around. All I could think of doing was wrapping his upper body up in roller bandages to try and keep everything reasonably in place. I tried to get a drip in but due to dehydration form the amount of blood he had lost he had venous shutdown and I could not get a vein anywhere. He was evacuated to Butare on the next available chopper…
In addition to providing protection, infantry soldiers were coming under fire as stretcher bearers. They were sent out repeatedly to pick which casualties to bring to the Critical Casualty Post making decisions on who lived and who died despite no medical training. Furthermore on occasions infantry soldiers bandaged victims and looked after bags of fluids on drips after quickly learning on the run.
Medecins Sans Frontieres staff informed Lt Tilbrook that there were still some of their staff in the hospital. The officer with two Australian diggers on foot went from the Zambian compound to the hospital in between crisscrossing fire between Hutu militia and RPA who were shooting at each other. Having successfully returned a panicked MSF doctor told him there was still one member missing. With two other diggers he went back to the hospital and found a woman hiding in a cupboard and all four returned safely again.
SAS medic Trooper Trooper Jon Church found a bawling three year old girl and carried her out. ” If you look closely at that photograph, there are tears running down Jonathan’s face.” tells photographer George Gittoes. Only able to treat the wounded another medic bandaged her arm to make it appear she was wounded and she was given a biscuit laced with Diazepam. The sedative put her to sleep and the Australians put her in one of the ambulance storage bins as they drove out stopping at each of the RPA check points. Vaughan-Evans later wrote ” We always remember that as a small victory. Despite all the [Rwandan Army] did to that mass of humanity, we got one little girl out of there.”
Small victories were few and far between. SAS Medic Corporal Paul Jordan gestured for an elderly woman to come to him. Instead she went over to an RPA soldier. He put his arm around her and walked her up a hill. Then he turned and smiled at the Australian soldier. He shoved the woman to the ground and shot her dead. Such actions were meant to goad the Australians to disregard their Rules of Engagement which would have given the 2,000 RPA troops present the excuse to open fire on the 32 strong Australian contingent. Another time an Australian soldier repeatedly forced a refugee back over the razor wire of the Zambian compound. The RPA came and got him. Such hard decisions had to be made by Australian soldiers and lived with in the years to come. At another point in the massacre Aussies behind sandbags saw a man, woman and child; most likely a family sprinting towards them. Medic Sgt Terry Pickard said they should down behind their sandbags. They did and seconds later a massive amount of machine gun fire went into the area, when they looked up all three were dead. ” The look of pure desperation and animal-like fear in the father’s dark, wide eyes will be burned into my memory forever.” Tells Pickard.
” The Rwandan soldiers were taking pot shots at him. He was confused. He didn’t know what to do. I saw that the yelling and screaming wasn’t doing any good so I ran out and grabbed the boy and brought him back.” Corporal Paul Jordan spoke of when he under fire saved a little boy named Buragaya Patera. Some shrapnel had gone straight through his chest. Lt Robbie Lucas treated him and went out with him on the medevac chopper. ” My boots were filling up with his blood and he ended up in intensive care for a quite a while but he lived. He and I became very close over that time. He would always point at a photo of my wife and family and say “Robbie, Melissa, Nathan, Joshua,” and then point to himself and say “Buragaya”, which was very heart rending.” Tells Lt Lucas.
Lt Lucas often visited the boy in the hospital and would have liked to adopt him but he had to take him to the Mother Theresa orphanage. Buragaya Patera was sent to family in neighbouring Congo by the Red Cross. There was a similar killing spree in the Congo. Despite many inquiries no one knows if young Buragaya survived.
The majority of the killing took place as a thousand refugees rushed out of the camp again as night neared. Standing on a ridge above them the Tutsis fired upon them with small arms, RPGs, and .50 cal machine guns. Then they moved through the valley and shot the wounded.
That night the Australians camped at a small village just north of Kibeho where a number of Australians had been flown in that day including a second medical team and more infantry.
In the morning the Australians returned with increased allowing them to carry out more work. Warrant Officer Rod Scott organised teams to move through and count the dead. Pools of blood and drag marks indicated the Rwandan soldiers had removed bodies overnight and the RPA prevented Australians looking in huts and latrines where bodies could have been hidden. The Australians counted 4,050 dead before they were stopped. No official estimates from the UN or the Rwandan government have ever matched these numbers.
Lt Tilbrook recalled from the day ” you couldn’t step anywhere without stepping on a body.” Pot shots continued to be taken at Australians on this day as they moved through the IDP camps. The Australians continued to treat and evacuate casualties. As before at times they bandaged unharmed children to get them out.
Tilbrook relates dealing with the RPA throughout the the massacre was extremely dangerous. ” There were other occasions when I needed to move injured people but the RPA wouldn’t allow it, so there would be yet another stand-off with weapons pointing at each other until the RPA stood back and let us what we needed to do. By the end, I was just walking past them and pushing their barrels away, telling them to fuck off and get out of the way, because I was sick of them. I had become numb to them.” A the end of that day Tilbrook handed over to the CO of another platoon and went back to the Australian area to sit down and have a smoke. Finally able to relax delayed stress kicked in. Tilbrook remembers really having to think about how to get back up again. His body simply refused to without his mind firmly concentrating on the task.
The Australian Medical Support Force that had been there during the massacre returned to Kigali that night. Kibeho is a significant moment in Australian military history and means a great many things to different people. Some of the veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. It is hard for them to have stood by with loaded rifles and been unable to stop the killing. Australian Rules of Engagement on UN Missions have changed since UNAMIR II as a result of Kibeho. SAS Medic Jon Church died during the following year in the Black Hawk Training accident. Medals of Gallantry, the first gallantary decoration to Australians since Vietnam, were awarded to WO2 Miller, WO1 Rod Scott, Major Vaughan-Evans and Lt Col Tilbrook. Other awards and commendations were awarded but no group bravery award or citation has been awarded for all 24 personnel. Originally UNAMIR II personnel were awarded the Australian Service Medal with Rwandan Clasp but this was subsequently upgraded to the Australian Active Service Medal with Rwandan Clasp in 2006.
What must be remembered is the following. Thousands of Rwandans were massacred. Australians risking their own lives saved many. Their mere presence let alone their extraordinary actions saved so many. There has been a cost to them for that but they did it and we as Australian should be immensely proud of them. ” I would like to take them all back to Rwanda, as I’ve had the fortune to do, and let them meet some of the survivors whose lives they saved. There might not be many of them, but when you see their faces beaming at you and the gratitude that they had to the Australian soldiers, the love they have for them, you realise it really was worth it.” states the artist and filmmakers George Gittoes who was with the AMSF throughout the massacre.
The next morning some of the members of the Australian Medical Support Force who had been at Kibeho during the massacre took part in the Dawn Service.
It was ANZAC Day.
Trooper Jon Church was killed in the Blackhawk Training Accident in 1996. He was 32 years old.
Corporal Paul Jordan left the Army shortly after Rwanda. He now works for a security firm on high risk jobs in places like Afghanistan and Syria.
Sergeant Terry Pickard was medically discharged with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1997 months short of 20 years service in the Australian Army. He wrote Combat Medic: An Australian’s Eyewitness Account of the Kibeho Massacre which was published in 2008.
Warrant Office Class 2 Andrew Miller MG saw further overseas service in East Timor.
Major Carol Vaughan Evans MG saw further overseas service in East Timor and the Middle East. As late as 2006, she was in the Army Reserves and a Doctor for Careflight. Her main job was at a tertiary hospital.
LtCol Tilbrook MG has seen further overseas service in the Solomon Islands, Israel and Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
Pickard, Terry. 2008. Combat Medic: An Australia’s eyewitness account of the Kibeho Massacre. Big Sky Publishing.
Halloran, Kevin. 2012. Rwanda UNAMIR 1994/95. Big Sky Publishing.
Biedermann, Narelle. 2006. “The Kibeho Massacre, Rwanda.” In Modern Military Heroes: Untold stories of courage and gallantry, written by Narelle Biedermann, 32-84. Milsons Point: Random House Australia.