‘The Longest War: The Australian Army in Afghanistan’ – a new on-line documentary of the Australian Army’s 12 years in Afghanistan, examined in CONTACT magazine issue 46.
Words Leading Seaman Jayson Tufrey
Photos Brian Hartigan (Tarin Kot 2006)
The Australian Army has released a graphic and realistic account of its 12 years in Afghanistan in a series of on-line videos.
‘The Longest War: The Australian Army in Afghanistan’ was launched at the Australian War Memorial on May 7.
The videos show what Army did in Afghanistan and how our soldiers lived and worked.
Screenshot of ‘The Longest War’ homepage. Click the image to see the content.
They are powerful and sometimes emotional accounts of our soldiers’ experiences in their own words.
With more than three hours of video, some of which has never been seen before, interviews with soldiers and their families, and more than 1000 images, The Longest War provides an unprecedented insight into the lives of soldiers in a harsh and uncompromising environment.
It all started as a vague idea from [now-retired] Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison who wanted to find a way for the Army to tell its story of its time in Afghanistan to the Australian public.
“We’ve introduced a contract with Australia; it talks about our values and the fact that we protect this country, not just its geographic land mass but also its interests and its values all around the world,” Lieutenant General Morrison said.
“This work is done by our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and almost completely it is done out of the public eye, with almost no recognition of individual service and action.
“This is an attempt to tell their story, in their words, often with their own video footage.
“This is not a history or a documentary that will be shown on TV with commentary from those who weren’t there – this is our Army telling our story about our war.”
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said he was pleased and privileged to launch the comprehensive story of the Army’s contribution to Operation Slipper.
“For the Australian soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan and their families, The Longest War is a story of joy and grief, of pride and loss,” Mr Andrews said.
“In more than a decade of operations we should never forget the Army lost 41 Australian soldiers.”
Mr Andrews said it was appropriate to launch the videos during the Centenary of Anzac and at the Australian War Memorial.
“This centenary is about our opportunity to shed a light on the support that our contemporary veterans and their families need in an ongoing way,” he said.
“We must also remember the 1600 Australian service men and women who continue to serve our nation’s vital security interests in the Middle East today.”
The story of The Longest War is structured into nine chapters. Each has a theme, but the narrative is fluid, designed to enable viewers to create their own journey through the material in their own way and in their own time.
Corporal Mark Donaldson VC said he thought the concept was fantastic.
“From my perspective as a serving soldier, I think it’s great the Army has finally had a chance to tell our story through our eyes,” Corporal Donaldson said.
“It’s the soldiers’ stories – it’s about what they saw, felt and experienced.
“It is quite untainted, it’s raw and it’s how it was.
“The beautiful thing is it covers from 2001 all the way through to 2013 so it really gives a timeline of the Army and the ADF in Afghanistan.
“It is going to reach out and affect a lot of families and a lot of these families may not have heard their members talk about these sorts of things in such a way.”
Describing his vision of The Longest War, Lieutenant General Morrison said his only stipulation was for the story to be told without gloss.
“That’s why there’s footage of our soldiers being wounded, because they were. That’s why there are interviews with men and women who have been deeply affected by their operational service, because they are,” he said.
“This is what your Army does and I couldn’t be more proud.
“For all of you who have served in Australia’s longest war, you have done this country proud.
“Well done and thank you for telling your story.”
Australia’s Longest War
In November 2001, Australia joined a US-led coalition with a goal to deny the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, to remove the Taliban from power and to defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
For the Australian Army, the mission in Afghanistan was a test of its capabilities – and, ultimately, a monumental achievement.
For its soldiers, it was time to put long years of training into practice.
Afghanistan is a land of contrasts and extremes – blistering deserts and magnificant mountains, with fertile ribons between.
Our soldiers faced a resilient enemy immersed within an ancient culture that had survived war on its land for centuries.
Legacy-mine and improvised-explosive-device threats were everpresent and the enemy was frustratingly hidden among the people.
More than 26,000 Australian soldiers served in Afghanistan on Operation Slipper from 2001-2014.
For them and their families, this was a time of joy and grief, pride and loss.
41 Australian soldiers died in Afghanistan, while many more were wounded physically and mentally.
The Army witnessed countless acts of courage and bravery and many soldiers received commendations, medals and awards for gallantry – including four Victoria Crosses.
This article was published in CONTACT Air Land & Sea issue 46,
available here FREE.