Friday, 16 January 2009

For Valour

In an ideal world, medals for gallantry would never have to be awarded. Every medal would be the result of some stuff-up somewhere. For the highest decorations, the stuff-up must be of monumental proportions.

In an ideal world, resources are limitless. There's always enough troops, tanks, guns, air support to make sure any enemy that appears will be instantly dealt with. In an ideal world, intelligence about the enemy is perfect: we know where he is, and in what strength, and with what capabilities.

But then, in an ideal world, there'd be no need for warfare.

In reality, no battle-plan ever survives contact with the enemy. In reality, no matter how good the planning, how adequate the resources seem to be, sometimes the enemy does not co-operate. And no matter how careful you are, sometimes stuff-ups, even stuff-ups of monumental proportions, happen. That is when Men, and Women too, may be called upon to preform acts of uncommon bravery. Acts which they know full well may mean their chances of survival are nil. Most such medals are awarded posthumously.

From The Australian :
Trooper Donaldson was serving with the SAS in Oruzgan in Afghanistan on September 2 last year when his unit was hit by an ambush, wounding nine Australians.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous acts of gallantry in a circumstance of great peril”, according to the citation.

“During a prolonged and effective enemy ambush on numerous occasions he deliberately drew the enemy’s fire in order to allow wounded soldiers to be moved to safety.

“As the battle raged around him he saw that a coalition force interpreter was lying motionless on exposed ground.

“With complete disregard for his own safety, on his initiative and alone, Trooper Donaldson ran back 80 metres across exposed ground to rescue the interpreter and carry him back to vehicle.

“Trooper Donaldson then rejoined his patrol and continued to engage the enemy while remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire.”

His citation said he "displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril" and saved the life of the interpreter.
"Greater Love Hath No Man...". But the motto of the SASR is "Who Dares, Wins", and sometimes, not often, but sometimes, they even get to survive too. Being confronted with someone like Trooper Donaldson on the other side is quite enough to give anyone the screaming heeby-jeebies. Sheer courage on one person's part can make them shoot carefully, in a disciplined and effective manner, no matter how many bullets are flying nearby. And the other side starts to panic as this guy appears to bear a charmed life, and is picking them off methodically, no matter how many bullets they spray in his direction. They have to spray, because if they pause to aim, he gets them first, in unhurried, professional 3-round bursts.

Such people are very, very, very scary to go up against. Such people really do risk their lives to help their mates, even mates who are from different countries.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
The combined Afghan, United States and Australian convoy came under sustained machine-gun fire and attack from rocket-propelled grenades when it was ambushed in Oruzgan Province.

A Defence Force citation reports the coalition patrol suffered numerous casualties and "completely lost the initiative".

Early on, Trooper Donaldson engaged the enemy with anti-armour weapons as well as his M4 rifle.

In order to draw attention away from wounded soldiers he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire.

"This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety," the citation states.

As the coalition vehicles moved four kilometres out of the engagement area, Trooper Donaldson was forced to run next to them because wounded soldiers occupied all the seats.

Once clear, the troops realised a severely-wounded coalition interpreter had been left behind.

"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."

He came under "intense and accurate" machine-gun fire.

After reaching the interpreter, Trooper Donaldson carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles, and provided first aid before returning to the fight.

It took more than two hours for the convoy to escape from enemy fire.
Australia values such exploits highly. Not some military "Glory", for unlike some nations, Australia finds none of that in warfare. But "Helping one's mates", yes, that is what we prize the most. Always have done, it's part of the national psyche.
The most recent Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross was Warrant Officer Keith Payne VC OAM in 1969 for gallantry during the Vietnam War. Under heavy enemy fire Warrant Officer Payne instigated a daring rescue of more than 40 men, many of them wounded, and led the party back to the battalion base.

Along with Mr Payne, the only other surviving Australian VC recipient is Victorian Edward Kenna, who won his award for service in New Guinea in 1945.
And finally, from the ABC :
NAOMI WOODLEY: The rescued interpreter has made a full recovery, but despite all of the accolades Trooper Donaldson says he doesn't see himself as a hero.

MARK DONALDSON: Every single one of those soldiers that are there serving for the nation are heroes and they should all be thanked and they should all be seen as heroes for that.
And two more very, very brave people.
KEITH PAYNE: I'm absolutely delighted that we have a live one (laughs). In a party like his, your chances of coming out alive are pretty negative.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Trooper Donaldson says he hopes to return to Afghanistan later this year. His wife, Emma Donaldson says she expects nothing less.

EMMA DONALDSON: He was married to the army before he married me and I support him all the way. So I'm happy to always keep the home front organised and just wait for his return.
I think I might, just, be able to do what Trooper Donaldson did. Except I'd almost certainly muck it up and get myself killed for nothing. But I know that if it was my partner, there's no way I could do what Emma Donaldson is doing.


Mia B. said...

I think that "medals" given, for the acknowledgement of positive deeds in society is a good thing. But the evil sister of "the medal" are the awards given through competitive activities. I abhore competition. I believe in the 2000 Olympics the time difference between 1st and 2nd place in the 100meters was .oo1 of a seconds. That seems strange to me. Is that really a difference? If the wind had blown .5mp more at an angle more congruant with the 2nd place finisher then they would have won. Its the arbitriness of is that bothers me. How 1st place is placed at the top of Mount Olympus with all others being forgotten. I think competition should be done away. Effort should be acknowledged but not held over others that also participated in "the game". Competition for me, represents one of human kinds hugest Achilles Heel, a heel that I see as being part of the lenchpin of human kinds social adolescence.

Yikes that was a long comment! With that being said, congrats on your Bronze!!! :-p

luv m

Anonymous said...

Courtesy of Vault-co:

Zoe Brain said...

Please explain how that particular "fringe" hypothesis differs from hundreds of other such.

I'd say "theory", but a theory requires some body of evidence. What evidence there is from particle accelerators etc is inconsistent with the idea, and some of the propositions are provably nonsense.

See Plasma Cosmology.

Anonymous said...

In this day and age, one should be very wary of people postulated as "Today's Galileo" for the simple reason that it is almost impossible for such to exist. The phenomena is brilliantly discussed here from where I quote in part:

What's interesting is that the idea of inappropriate or manufactured doubt about scientific or historical claims is a very new phenomenon. Indeed, it's very hard to think of any examples before 1950, with the possible exception of the first wave of Creationism in the 1920s. Leah Ceccarelli points out that many of the rhetorical tricks used go back to the Greek Sophists but until recently the concept of denialism would have been almost meaningless, for the simple reason that this requires a truth to be inappropriately called into question and before about the 19th century, to a first approximation, we didn't have access to any such truths.

It's easy to forget just how ignorant we were until recently. The average schoolkid today has a more accurate picture of the universe than the greatest genius of 500 years ago, or of 300 years ago, and even of 100 years ago (assuming that the schoolkid knows about the Big Bang, plate tectonics, and DNA - all 20th century discoveries).

To exaggerate, but not very much: until the last couple of centuries of human history, no-one correctly believed in anything, and people had many beliefs that were actively wrong - they believed in ghosts, and witches, and Hiranyagarbha, and Penglai. People erred by believing. Those who disbelieved were likely to be right.

Things have changed. There is more knowledge now; today, when people err, it is increasingly because they reject the truth. No-one in the West now believes in witches, but hundreds of millions of us don't believe that the visible universe originated in a singularity about 13.5 billion years ago, although this is arguably a much bigger mistake to make. In other words, whereas in the past the main problem was belief in false ideas ("dogma"); increasingly the problem is doubting true ones ("denialism").

Basically while what started off as Natural Philosophy and we now call Science, used to feature big breakthroughs and new radical ideas, it no longer does. Now that our scientific 'map' is far more filled in, scientific progress is made in more of an inchworm fashion; where one group undertakes an experiment, another group replicates and extends it, a third group untertakes a derivative experiment etc. and each time small chunks of data are added to the overall human knowledge base.

It is unfortunate in this respect that our scientific heroes, by necessity, are all of the previous era. Therefore people (non-scientists) stil expect breakthroughs and wondrous new world-changing theories. It provides fertile ground for many self-styled Davids, but simply given the lack of big things left to be discovered, any such David is more than likely to be a quack.

To further the analogy, several hundred years ago, it was plausible for someone to return from a voyage and state they had discovered a new, uninhabited continent (indeed it was plausible to set off on a voyage in order to discover new continents). These days, we not only have a complete set of continents, we are even quite certain of the number of mountains, rivers, lakes etc. Someone proposing a new Mount Everest in the middle of Australia would be laughed at (and rightly so) by a schoolkid. There's still stuff to discover - satellites can identify previously unknown springs, tribal settlements and artifacts of ancient civilizations. Determining the composition of forests, amount of high-altitude snowfall etc are also common tasks, but it is all incremental work, Columbus-like discoveries are all taken.


Anonymous said...

Hey, maybe I'll get one of those neat VCs too! After all, I'm headed for Kandahar later this year, likely outside the wire. I've volunteered for it. Remember, courage is just a euphemism for scared shitless with nothing left to lose. And I have nothing left.

Zoe Brain said...

Nat, I swear that if you earn ANY form of gong posthumously, I'll half kill you!

Anonymous said...

It's hardly your problem anymore, is it? You and your friends have made it abundantly clear where I fit in your world, (i.e. not at all) and you know it. If I get blown up by an IED while out on patrol this September, so be it. As I mentioned, I have nothing left to lose, and nothing left behind.