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Minister, Members of the Government and Federal Opposition, Brigadier Frewen, Men and Women of 1 ATF, your families, friends, and members of the broader Army family; today marks a very solemn occasion. This farewell parade provides us all with an opportunity to pay tribute to you for your service to the nation – to thank you and to extend our very best wishes for your mission in Afghanistan. It is a solemn occasion because you are willingly placing yourself in harm’s way in the service of the nation and voluntarily leaving behind your families, friends and loved ones. Yet even that solemnity is leavened with great pride; pride in yourselves for proving that you are worthy of deployment on active service; pride in your mates and your units; pride in the Army to which you belong and pride in our nation Australia.
Among the force elements about to deploy I wish to acknowledge on parade today are the following:
• HQ 1 Bde
• 7 RAR
• 8/12 MDM Regt
• 1 CER
• 1 CSR
Deployment on operations – especially active service is the pinnacle of every soldier’s career. We all aspire to it and relish the challenge when it arrives. There is no more exacting way to test your skills and your character than undertaking active service as part of a team. The environment into which you are deploying is difficult, demanding and dangerous. You already know that and I do not need to dwell on it. But you also know that you have been prepared by a superb individual and collective training system, which is the envy of our Allies. You are ready.
Make no mistake, you are about to make a vital contribution to the security of this nation. You are heading to Afghanistan at a crucial time. Your predecessors have made significant gains. Our Special Forces have damaged and degraded the insurgency in Uruzgan and further afield in Afghanistan, while the Force Elements that you are relieving have steadily built the capability of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The mission you are about to undertake is valuable to Australia and to Afghanistan. You will save lives and you will change lives for the better. Do not clutter your heads with negative and misinformed comments currently spreading in the media to the effect that your work is not relevant, not in the national interest nor vital to the security of your families and nation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You are the custodians of one of the truly noble traditions that this young nation has given rise to, that of the Australian digger embarking on operations overseas to lend a hand to the weak, the oppressed and the vulnerable. As an Army we have been doing this since the birth of the nation. We have never been on the wrong side of a conflict nor are we on the wrong side of history. You and your families must draw solace from that sure knowledge. You are the representatives of legitimate government, legally elected by the people of this country and you operate under a mandate from the United Nations to assist the people of Afghanistan.
You face an enemy which is cruel, ruthless and outside the norms o civilised society. You can feel proud of what you are doing confident in the assurance of its morality and importance. And rest assured that the people of Australia admire you for your courage and your willingness to assume risks on their behalf, whether they understand or agree with the cause for which you fight or not. Our people have not been as proud of their Army since I joined it over three decades ago. Never have I seen respect for what you do more universally shared across the political spectrum that it is today. Let that sure knowledge comfort and inspire you.
We Aussies are pragmatic people. I won’t try to invoke oratory or high rhetoric to encourage you. In the end, backing your mates and not letting down your small teams will be the thing that sustains you when the going gets tough. And that has been the way of the Australian soldier since Gallipoli, through Tobruk, Kokoda, Kapyong, Long Tan and all our recent operations. You are about to write you own chapter in that story-one which inspires our people more than any other. Next time you go to a book store compare how many books about our soldiers there are compared to those about lawyers or even movie stars. What we do matters. And our fellow Aussies know that.
No doubt you are excited at the opportunity to test yourselves and to experience the unique camaraderie that binds Australian soldiers to one another in the face of a challenge. It is also natural to feel some apprehension and also the pain of separation from families and loved ones, especially as the Christmas season will fall while you are deployed.
However, as you are all aware, your training has equipped you to deal with the dangers and demands of the battlefield. From Kapooka right through to your Mission Rehearsal Exercise for this deployment, you have been given the best that our Army has to offer. I believe that the Australian Army’s individual and collective training systems are second to none. Similarly, you have the best equipment that money can buy in order to protect you and enable you to defeat any threat that encounter.
While you are away be secure in the knowledge that the entire Army family will hold your loved ones in its warm embrace. Both Army and the Defence Community Organisation are on standby 24/7 to ensure that your families and loved ones are well looked after in your absence. You are the point of the spear for the next several months. But the entire Army and ADO is backing you up. I will fight to deliver every material and emotional support that you need to achieve your mission and come back safely. And on your return we will be there for you to get you through any injuries-physical or mental. On that I give you my personal pledge. You will not need to suffer in silence or isolation if you are traumatised by your service.
Be assured that you embark on your missions with the respect, goodwill and prayers of the whole community, As an aside, I recall that when I was a young a boy, 9 RAR-the battalion commanded by my own father- marched through the streets of this city prior to their deployment. They were insulted and jeered by other Australians. Such a scene would be unthinkable today. You and every man and woman in the Australian Army is responsible for that sea change in attitude to the uniform that you wear. Let that remind you of the onus that you bear. Remember who you are. You are Australian soldiers. That is the highest accolade this nation offers. No more need be said. God Speed and good soldiering!