AN Australian commando hailed a hero after a helicopter crash almost killed him has been court-martialled over an Afghan training incident, inflaming tensions between frontline troops and the independent military prosecutor.
The soldier, known as Private S, was just days after his release from hospital charged with causing grievous bodily harm, an offence more usually associated with civilian criminal courts.
The charge stemmed from an incident on a Tarin Kowt training range on April 10, 2010. A 40mm grenade fired by the young forward scout fell short, with a fragment from the explosion striking Lance Corporal L on the face. Though the injury was far from deliberate and incurred no permanent damage, Private S had erred in discharging his weapon without authorisation.
At the start of the court martial at Sydney's Victoria Barracks last week, the volatile grievous bodily harm charge was dropped after prosecutors apparently applied leverage for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of unauthorised discharge of a weapon.ted Coverage
Private S's fiancee "Tracy" said she had watched her partner slip into depression, not because of the Black Hawk accident that almost killed him but "this case".While Private S - who will not be able to return to combat operations because of his injuries - received a conviction without punishment, the decision to charge him at all angered both his fiancee and a leading military lawyer.
Together with Private S's mother, Tracy had travelled to Germany where the soldier was treated after the June 21 helicopter accident that killed three Australian commandos and a US crewman. Private S - one of 10 survivors - suffered a broken back, a double fracture to his right leg, a shattered ankle and more.
His condition deteriorated when his lung collapsed in transit to Germany, where he received spinal fusion treatment and skin grafts.
After learning of the charge and seeing the impact it had on her fiance, Tracy wrote to the army, saying how she had been told "countless times" while in Germany that Private S was a hero and questioning how he could now be considered a criminal.
"As his fiancee I want to know, if he did do wrong [at the earlier training incident], why was he allowed to go on an operation?" she asked.
An army psychologist told me the deep depression was not surprising. Soldiers were trained to deal with combat-related trauma. What they were not prepared for was a perception the institution they trusted to look after them had turned against them.
Major David McLure, who will represent one of three One Commando Regiment commandos charged with manslaughter over an Afghan raid, was critical of the decision to charge Private S soon after he left hospital.
He described the Director of Military Prosecutions' decision as callous and demonstrating a weird lack of empathy.