It is with great sadness that the Department of Defence announces the death of Sergeant Andrew Russell, serving with Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan on 16 February 2002. Sergeant Russell was on a patrol when the long-range patrol vehicle in which he was travelling struck a suspected anti-vehicle mine.
Sergeant Russell is survived by his wife Kylie and baby daughter Leisa.
Sergeant Russell enlisted into the Australian Regular Army on the 26th of November 1986. After he completed his Recruit Training at Kapooka, he was allocated to the Royal Australian Engineer Corps. At the completion of his Initial Employment Training, Sergeant Russell was posted to the 2nd/3rd Field Engineer Regiment.
Sergeant Russell successfully completed the Special Air Service Selection Course in 1991 and completed a number of specialist courses ranging from patrolling, demolitions, parachuting, sniper, and medical. He lived his life to the full and passionately loved his job.
During his service in the Australian Defence Force, Sergeant Russell was awarded:
- the Australian Active Service Medal with East Timor clasp and International Coalition Against Terrorism Clasp
- the Afghanistan Campaign Medal
- the International Forces East Timor Medal
- the Australian Service Medal with Iraq clasp
- the Australian Defence Medal
- the United Nations Medal with the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor Ribbon
- the Infantry Combat Badge
- the Returned from Active Service Badge.
During Sergeant Russell's service in the Australian Army he deployed on the following Operations:
- Operation Blazer (Iraq): 1997
- Operation Pollard (Kuwait): 1998
- Operation Warden (East Timor): 1999
- Operation Tanager (East Timor): 2000
- Operation Slipper (Afghanistan): 2002.
As the bagpipes of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry skirled, Sergeant Andrew Robert Russell, Special Air Service Regiment, fatally wounded in action in Afghanistan, began his journey home.
Farewelled by his mates from the Special Forces Task Group from Kandahar Airfield, the 33-year-old fallen soldier is the first Australian military death in action since the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago.
Sgt Russell suffered fatal wounds on 16 February, 2002 when the long-range patrol vehicle in which he was travelling struck a suspected anti-vehicle mine.
He was one of five Australian personnel travelling in the vehicle, but was the only person wounded in the explosion.
Combat Search and Rescue helicopters were launched from Kandahar 13 minutes after the task group headquarters was notified of the incident at 11.58pm Australian Eastern Summer Time.
Despite the efforts of a three-member US military rescue team, who parachuted into the scene to stabilise him in preparation for evacuation by helicopter, he was pronounced dead after arriving at a United States medical facility in Kandahar.
His death came a month after another mine incident in the region wounded an Australian soldier.
Another Australian soldier, Captain Peter McCarthy, lost his life when his jeep hit a land-mine while serving with the United Nations in Lebanon in 1988.
Chief of Army Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, who announced the loss of Sgt Russell on Sunday 17 February, said the incident was a tragic loss of life.
"It's a very sad day. Our hearts go out to his loved ones. We all mourn the death of a good and brave soldier," he said.
"Our soldiers over there have been working extraordinarily hard removing the instruments of terror and war."
Lieutenant-General Cosgrove said arms caches and military equipment, left behind in abundance, were focal points where mines were placed by evil people.
"Obviously it's the duty of our soldiers - and one they've done particularly well - to try and rid that battered country of some of these depots of weapons."
Prime Minister John Howard said Sergeant Russell's death underlined the hazards inherent in the Australian Defence Force and was particularly representative of the dangers faced in Afghanistan.
"It indicates how dangerous is the mission on which our servicemen are embarked. It is a sad and awful reminder of the great risks that the men and women of the ADF undertake," he said.
Minister for Defence Robert Hill said the tragic incident highlighted the dangers faced by Australian forces operating in Afghanistan.
"It also underlines the level of commitment of the men and women who choose to serve their nation through the Australian Defence Force," he said.
"I would like to express my deepest sympathies and the sympathies of the Australian Government to the deceased soldier's family.
"This soldier has given his life in the service of his country as part of the global effort to make the world a safer place from the threat of terrorism.
"I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the soldier's colleagues in their attempts to save his life in these difficult circumstances. The Australian Government also appreciates the efforts of the United States medical personnel who gave assistance to our forces."
Federal Opposition Leader Simon Crean said the tragedy reminded Australians of the risks accepted by people of the ADF.
"[His death] reminds us all of the enormous debt that we owe the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our prayers go out to other Australians on active duty."
His family are receiving ongoing support through Defence Community Organisation and SASR.