Thursday, 13 September 2012
McDonald, Lance Corporal Mervyn John, Galagher, Private Nathanael John Aubrey
29 August 2012 was a dark day for our whole nation. The loss of one soldier is always one too many. On Monday we remembered the loss of three Australian soldiers who were murdered by a member of the Afghan military and now we also mourn the loss of two Special Operation Task Group members who were killed when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. Not since the battle of Nui Le in Vietnam on 21 September 1971 has Australia lost five men in a 24-hour period.
Australian Special Forces soldiers Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher, from 2nd Commando Regiment, were killed when an ISAF helicopter crashed in Helmand province. The Australian Special Forces and their partnered Afghan National Security Force unit were participating in a targeted mission at the time of the incident.
Thirty-year-old Lance Corporal McDonald was on his sixth tour of Afghanistan. Lance Corporal McDonald was quick-witted and brought a positive energy to both his unit comrades and all those who served with him.
A dedicated and enthusiastic professional soldier, he was always willing to come forward with ideas and solutions. He was a highly professional soldier, but his quiet nature and humility meant he always deflected credit back onto fellow members of his company.
I wish to express my sincere condolences to his fiancee Rachael; his mother Myrna and stepfather Bernie; and brothers Percy, Roger and Gary.
I am told that his 23-year-old colleague Private Galagher idolised Lance Corporal McDonald. Private Galagher always put 110 per cent into everything he did. He had a 'can-do' attitude, always wanting to get the job done and taking everything in his stride. He was an enthusiastic, young soldier who was very well respected by his mates in the regiment.
I wish to express my sincere condolences to his partner Jessie; parents Wayne and Sally; and sister Elanor.
During the parliamentary recess I spent 10 days in Afghanistan with our troops and during this time I met with members of the 2nd Commando Regiment. They were frank and open about their mission, about the challenge it presented and indeed the pressure of achieving their objectives before Australia is scheduled to leave Afghanistan.
We have lost two very special soldiers—two men trained to an exceptionally high level, both physically and mentally; two quick-thinking and innovative men who could keep a cool head in difficult and complex situations all over the world. Their commitment to their chosen career as soldiers and to our mission in Afghanistan was unwavering, as was their loyalty to their mates and their love for their own families and their Army family. On behalf of the Ryan electorate, I offer my sincere condolences to Lance Corporal McDonald's and Private Galagher's families, friends, colleagues and loved ones. Lest we forget.
A sombre ceremony is being held today at Pilliga, a village a long way from anywhere in the north-west plains of New South Wales. You get a sense of the isolation—some would say desolation—of this community by the fact that the 1981 award-winning regional history about the area, a work by Eric Rolls, was entitled A Million Wild Acres. Although far away, Pilliga is very much at the heart of the nation at the moment, as the people of this tiny speck on the map farewell one of their favourite sons. Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher called Pilliga home. He was just 23 years of age when he was killed during operations in Afghanistan. Also killed in the same helicopter crash was Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald, 30, from Carnarvon in Western Australia.
We have now lost 38 gallant soldiers in Afghanistan—a terrible loss of young life, but by no means a waste. They have helped to secure a better future for a troubled country, a nation which, by and large, seeks the same ideals of peace that we hold so dear and which we almost take for granted here in Australia. They helped drive the Taliban into hiding, if not total submission. The price of peace is a heavy one. It is measured in the blood of brave soldier from far-flung places—freedom fighters sent to do a job in the deadliest of situations. Private Galagher and Lance Corporal McDonald exemplified all that is good and great about the Anzac spirit.
Nate Galagher's partner, Jessie Feeney, is expecting a son—a boy who will grow up without the benefit of having his father around, but who will understand the wonderful man his dad was. That is Jessie's pledge. As she said, 'There is no trait of Nate's that I wouldn't want his son to inherit.' Nate idolised Lance Corporal McDonald, who was also killed alongside him on that fateful 30 August flight. Jessie recounted:
Merv was generous with his experience and shared it with the other boys in the team, especially Nate. I last saw Nate at the airport when he departed Australia in July. As they were about to walk off to the gate together, Merv turned to me and said, 'Don't worry Jess, I'll bring him home.' While it's under the most tragic of circumstances, Merv is honouring his promise.
Nathanael is also survived by his parents, Wayne and Sally, and sister, Elanor. Born in Wee Waa, Private Galagher joined the Army in 2007, was posted to the 2nd Commando Regiment in November 2011 and was on his second tour to Afghanistan. The Australian Defence Force said:
He had a 'can-do' attitude, always wanting to get the job done and taking everything in his stride.
Lance Corporal McDonald is survived by his fiancee, Rachael Sprigg-McKinnie, his mother, Myrna, stepfather, Bernie, and brothers, Percy, Roger and Gary. He enlisted in 1999 and at the time of his death was on his sixth tour of duty to Afghanistan. The ADF paid tribute to Lance Corporal McDonald's quick wit and positive energy. According to the ADF:
A dedicated and enthusiastic professional soldier, he was always willing to come forward with ideas and solutions. He was a highly professional soldier, but his quiet nature and humility meant he always deflected credit back on to fellow members of his Company.
Highly decorated during his career Lance Corporal McDonald was, according to his fiancee:
… the warmest guy you'd ever meet. You could see it in his eyes, they had a special sparkle. He was a real Aussie bloke with a passion for his country, especially its natural splendour.
Nate and Merv were real Aussie blokes, but they were much more as well. They were courageous in the midst of an enemy sometimes impossible to see. They were inseparable mates then, now and forever. They were Anzacs. They were heroes. They may be gone but they will not be forgotten. Let us mourn them today and remember their selfless bravery, their supreme sacrifice, as long as the last post is played each Anzac Day.
Their grieving families will remember their love each and every day. May they rest in peace. Lest we forget.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the most thoughtful and touching contributions by those who have spoken before me on both sides of this House. We are in this chamber today to pay our respects to Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathaniel Galagher and to offer our condolences to their colleagues in the 2nd Commando Regiment and their respective families and friends.
The motto of the 2nd Commando Regiment is foras admonitio, or without warning, and the brave soldiers of the regiment live and serve by this motto. Australian commandos are respected around the world for their skill, professionalism, dedication, discipline and strong determination. The 2nd Commando Regiment has been awarded the unit citation for gallantry and the meritorious unit citation for their role in Afghanistan. It is in this noble and brave vein that these two young Australians served.
Lance Corporal McDonald was an experienced soldier and on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan, while having completed four deployments in East Timor between 2001 and 2007. He was generous with his experience and someone that his younger colleagues looked up to. Among them was Private Galagher. Private Gallagher was a young solider who gained entry into the elite commando unit within four years of joining the Army. He has been described as someone with a 'can-do' attitude who always put 110 per cent into everything he did, and there is no doubt that this is why he was so well thought of by his colleagues.
The loss of any soldier serving overseas is a tragedy and one felt right across our community, and it is heightened when they are our much respected neighbours stationed at Holsworthy. Today, I am particularly struck by the stories of these two young men, and I have a deep sympathy for their families and their partners. These brave young men have made the ultimate sacrifice: giving their lives in defence of the principles in which they believed—the principles of freedom, democracy and mateship. These men, like all those who join our defence forces, did so out of a love for their country, a love for freedom and a love for the Australian way of life. Both these men travelled to the other side of the world to defend those who could not defend themselves, to give hope to a population that, for so long, has had none. These men are true heroes and will be remembered forever for their sacrifice and their service.
Given some recent comments in the media, it is worth recounting the absolute evil that our troops are fighting against in Afghanistan and the evil for which Lance Corporal Mervin McDonald and Private Nathaniel Galagher gave their lives fighting against: the evil of the Taliban. This is a group so evil that it commits systematic massacres against its own civilians. This is a group so evil that it has denied UN food supplies to tens of thousands of starving civilians, with the UN confirming that the Taliban had starved civilians for their own military agenda and were using humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war. This is a group so evil that it conducts a scorched earth policy, burning vast areas of fertile land and destroying tens of thousands of family homes. This is a group so evil that a report by the Physicians for Human Rights said:
To PHR's knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment …
This is a group so evil that it has issued edicts forbidding women the most basic human right of being educated, forcing girls to leave schools and colleges. Again, I quote the same report by the Physicians for Human Rights. It said:
The extent to which the Taliban regime has violated the human rights of Afghan women is unparalleled in recent history.
… … …
It is difficult to find another government or would-be government in the world that has deliberately created such poverty by arbitrarily depriving half the population under its control of jobs, schooling, mobility and health care. Such restrictions are literally life threatening to women and to their children.
This is a group so evil that it has planted improvised explosive devices in girls' schools. This is a group that dynamited the famous sixth century archaeological masterpieces of Buddha statues at Bamiyan. This is a group so evil that it outlawed sports, denying children the right and the joy of kicking a ball, and turned sports stadiums into public execution grounds, shooting people, hanging them from goalposts and chopping off their limbs. This is a group so evil that it seeks to deny people the joys of music and, only recently, took knives and beheaded 17 people for simply playing music at a party.
We should never forget the words of Edmund Burke, who once famously said, 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' Lance Corporal Mervyn McDonald and Private Nathanael Galagher were good men. They were prepared to stand up and to fight evil to ensure that it will not triumph. Australia, and the world, is a better place for their sacrifice and their service, and their efforts should never be forgotten. Lest we forget.
It is with great sadness that I rise today to support the condolence motion to honour Lance Corporal Mervyn John McDonald and Private Nathanael John Aubrey Galagher. Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were both members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Tragically they both lost their lives when their helicopter crashed on 30 August 2012. This has been a very tough time for the family and friends of Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher and their mates still serving in Afghanistan. However, I would like them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Lance Corporal McDonald was on his sixth tour to Afghanistan. He served in Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, as well as Operation Astute in Timor-Leste and Operation Citadel in East Timor. By all accounts Lance Corporal McDonald was noted for his quick wit and positive energy. He has been described as a dedicated, wholehearted and highly professional soldier and a credit to his company. The moving words of Lance Corporal McDonald's fiancee, Rachael Sprigg-McKinnie, paint a picture of a loving family man with an infectious personality who was passionate about the Army and serving his country. Rachael's touching tribute to her fiance brings to the fore the tragic loss of this young soldier.
I also want to offer my condolences to the family and friends of 23-year-old Private Galagher, who was serving on his second tour to Afghanistan. Private Galagher, known as Nate to his family and mates, was deployed as part of the operation. I have spoken before about meeting soldiers of the calibre of Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher when I travelled to Afghanistan. In my short time in Tarin Kot, Kandahar and Kabul, I saw firsthand the determination and focus of the Australian troops and the passion that they have in their mission to eliminate terrorism from the region and create a peaceful and safe country for the people of Afghanistan. I also got to see the loyalty and the camaraderie of these soldiers, and I can only imagine what they are feeling and what they are experiencing at the moment at the loss of two of their own, because they are a very tight-knit and loyal group, and they are very close. It is like a brotherhood.
They operate in an environment that is unimaginable to most people. Our troops face unique hardships and risks. They share the satisfaction of serving in an operation that is designed to bring freedom from oppression, and they share the loss of their fellow soldiers very deeply. In my visit I met with those soldiers and commandos and got a sense of the conditions and challenges they endure, because the environment in Afghanistan is difficult and it is difficult to describe. When I was there I was told of life in winter, when the temperature can drop to minus 20, and of life in the summer months, when the temperature can rise to 50 degrees. Within a year the people of Afghanistan experience freezing conditions and boiling hot and dusty days that test the most highly trained and experienced soldiers.
So I have tremendous admiration for the people of Afghanistan, who endure these extreme conditions while under the constant threat of war and terrorism, and I hold in great admiration our service men and women who are there to help the Afghani people as they work towards building their own resilience and stability. Our service men and women are there to assist the people in Afghanistan. They want and need our help, and there are overwhelming sacrifices being made on all sides.
What impressed me about the soldiers there was the incredible dignity and respect that they have. Of course, the soldiers being Australian, I also saw a lot of humour and larrikinism, which is very much a trait of Australian soldiers. I have previously described our service men and women in Afghanistan and those serving in other operations as being like a brotherhood, as I mentioned before. As in a brotherhood, if one of their brothers dies or is injured then they are commemorated, often with bracelets bearing their names. There are many ways we can honour and pay tribute to our soldiers. While I did not know these soldiers personally, I can understand the incredible loss their mates are experiencing.
Lance Corporal McDonald and Private Galagher were bravely serving their country with distinction and honour. The tributes we have heard today are a recognition on behalf of the parliament that we honour their commitment to our Defence Force and the operations they engage in. I extend my sincere sympathies to the family of Lance Corporal McDonald—his fiancee, Rachael; his mother, Myrna, and stepfather Bernie; and his brothers, Percy, Roger and Gary—and to the family of Private Galagher—his partner, Jessie; his parents, Wayne and Sally; and his sister, Elanor. Lest we forget.