Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The company that marched us to our United Nations seat

By Malcolm Farr

As Australian diplomats enjoyed their New York back-slapping orgy last Friday, a bunch of men vital to their United Nations Security Council victory that day entered a paved paddock outside Wagga Wagga.

The future of our nation, in more ways than one

They were the 50 members of 33 Platoon, Delta Company, who had just completed 12 weeks of training at Kapooka Army base. They were recruits about to become soldiers.

The diplomats congratulated themselves for a sophisticated five year, $24 million+ campaign to win Australia a two-year stint at the UN’s top table.

But they could not have even put Australia’s name on the ballot paper were it not for the likes of those men nervously marching out on the Kapooka parade ground.

Without soldiers of their kind, the New York campaigners would not have been able to boast of Australia’s participation in dozens of peace-keeping forces, or Australia’s good global citizen roles in the Solomon Islands and East Timor, or of our commitment to multi-lateral operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the enormous sacrifices involved.

Diplomatic talk without a military backup is just cocktail party chatter.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr should be proud of his team’s achievement and the two years ahead. Kapooka’s commandant, Lt CO Steven D’Arcy, no doubt was proud of this team, and the fact that the training would produce dividends for a lot longer than two years.

My nephew Francis was in Delta Company and as I watched him march out grim faced I recalled a theory held by Kim Beazley.

Mr Beazley once said ordinary soldiers were always complaining because they knew that somewhere, someone was spending billions of dollars on better ways to kill them.

I decided it wasn’t real smart to tell my sister this story as she watched her son, both hands up to her tense face. It was probably the timeless expression of mothers when they first realise their son or daughter has become a soldier.

The corporal who guided dozens of relatives and friends of the recruits to the low stands on one side of the parade grounds said Delta was awesome, and the toughest group in the base.

“There’s anger at Kapooka. There’s more in Delta,” he said. Awesome.

The trainers might have treated the recruits like sub-morons, but the Army isn’t silly. Parents and relatives are revered.

“You have given to the Australian Army great trust,” said the reviewing officer, as well as “your most precious possession”.

At lunch after the parade it was clear that just as recruits had come to Kapooka from all over Australia, so had their families for this occasion. One new soldier had 27 people arrive to watch his march out.

A young soldier saw his wife and baby for the first time in three months. Grandma held the child as the wife walked around with her soldier husband, rarely letting go of his hand.

Older members of one family spoke in thick accents and possibly were of Lebanese extraction. A son had signed up to die for his country if necessary. They couldn’t be more Australian.

Some 5000 soldiers are trained at Kapooka each year and go on to provide the backbone for our military force, whether in infantry, artillery, transport or elsewhere.

As we emerged from the lunch another company was marching past having spent two weeks in the scrub with little sleep, no comforts and moments of terror.

The Delta Company visitors applauded them.

The exhausted recruits were covered in camo paint and grime. They still looked like young boys.

Meanwhile, while Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally thanked Department of Foreign Affairs officials in Canberra for the UN success and Minister Carr entertained the New York crew, Delta company headed off to Wagga’s Victoria hotel.

The night was theirs to celebrate as they wished, as long as it ended at 9pm.


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