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Never Stand Still
Business Services Unit
Army March 17, 2011
IN THE space of eight months 12
Australian soldiers have lost their
lives in Afghanistan.
The two most recent casualties,
Cpl Richard Atkinson and Spr Jamie
Larcombe, were both from 1CER. Their
deaths sent shockwaves through the
At a memorial for Cpl Atkinson in
Darwin, CO 1CER Lt-Col Matt Pearse
described how the "lads from his sec-
tion and his troop will soldier on" and
"they'll see the end of this tour of duty
just as Akka would expect".
It is difficult for some Australians to
understand how, in the wake of grief and
faced with such extreme danger, our sol-
diers could want to "soldier on", how
they could want to go back to the place
that has taken the lives
of so many of their
mates, how they could
not fear meeting the
But this attitude of
determination in the
face of adversity is not
unique to 1CER.
Indeed, tributes to
all of the 23 soldiers
killed since the invasion
of Afghanistan in 2001
have included promises
from comrades to "get
the job done".
Rather than scare
soldiers off, these tragic
deaths seem to harden
their resolve -- and this
can be seen not only in
the tributes to the fallen,
but in the raw data.
ADF numbers for
soldiers who quit the
Army are at their lowest
point in history.
Historically, the rate
is about 12 per cent.
Even with the increase
in casualties, it has con-
sistently fallen over the past few years
and is below 9 per cent.
RSM-A WO Stephen Ward said the
possibility of death or injury was always
present in the mind but it did not "take
Intensive training played a large part
in how soldiers coped with their grief
and fears, but in the main, a deep-seated
sense of mateship and loyalty enabled
them to see their missions through, he
"People have often wondered about
the guys who fought in Gallipoli ... what
made them climb out of a trench and run
straight in front of machineguns ... line
after line of them? The simple answer is
mateship and a fear of letting their mates
down. That bond is incredibly strong.
This concept of mateship and being there
for your mates is still very real today."
WO Ward said a casualty had a pro-
found effect on the Army.
"It's always a massive shock to the
system. Always. It's never ever good
news and the whole organisation suffers
at every level."
The bond created by a casualty was
strong, he said.
"I think it hardens their resolve.
Losing a mate motivates them to get the
job done, to make sure the sacrifice does
not go to waste. All of these soldiers are
extremely brave, and it can be hard for
people outside the Army to understand
how they do it.
"Two of the young people I spoke to
after Cpl Atkinson's funeral, you could
see their willingness to go back, to get
the job done, to do justice to their mate's
life which had been lost."
Mark Thomson, a defence analyst for
the Australian Strategic Policy Institute,
said retention rates were so high because
soldiers knew what they were getting
"They go in with their eyes complete-
ly open -- no one is pretending there are
not dangers involved,"
"Also, it's part of
what they aspire to be.
Bearing some risks and
working together to
achieve a goal is part of
what they sign up for.
"The Army has no
trouble whatsoever get-
ting people into the
infantry or, more impor-
tantly, keeping them
there. They have more
trouble recruiting engi-
neers or filling mechani-
Neil James of the
Association said casu-
alties had no effect on
retention rates because
soldiers were like fam-
"You fight wars in
small teams. These are
your mates. If you lose a
mate you keep doing the
job," he said.
"To some extent it
helps them cope. It's
when you return back to base that you
may find your grief surfacing. Death is
a heavy investment to make, but it's the
profession they're in."
Each Army unit has at least one chap-
lain and access to a psychologist.
WO Ward said soldiers were encour-
aged to seek help when needed.
"You always question yourself in
regards to what's out there and how it
might impact you. But the training we
give them underpins their confidence to
the job," he said.
"Their mates are always there to sup-
port them. And we never send anyone out
on their own. They are always with their
team. Together. Doing their job with their
"Being in the Army is about cour-
age, initiative and teamwork. Whether
they are in Afghanistan or Grantham, our
soldiers are really so proud to be serving
our nation. That's what they're thinking
about every day."
This is an edited version of a story printed in the
Herald Sun on February 20 reproduced with the
permission of Ellen Lutton and the Herald Sun.
Despite the high loss of life in recent months,
Defence Force retention rates are at their highest,
writes Ellen Lutton.
them climb out
of a trench and
in front of
line after line
of them? The
is mateship and
a fear of
Resolute: Engineers from 1CER place Cpl Richard Atkinson's casket on a RAAF C-130 Hercules at a
ramp ceremony in Tarin Kot.
Photo by Cpl Christopher Dickson
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