Australia’s Governor-General and all Australia’s living VC recipients visited our troops in Iraq yesterday.
His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, Keith Payne VC, Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG, Corporal Dan Keighran VC and Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell visited Task Group Taji after attending centenary events to commemorate the August 1915 offensive in Turkey.
Task Group Taji is the combined Australian–New Zealand military training force located at the Taji Military Complex northwest of Baghdad, under the respective Operations OKRA and MANAWA.
Mr Payne, who received his Victoria Cross for his “sustained and heroic personal efforts” while under heavy enemy fire in Vietnam in 1969, said visiting soldiers on operations was a trip highlight.
“It’s always a privilege for me to visit our young military men and women overseas and to thank them for their service. They’re doing a fantastic job and it was great to meet them and hear about what they’re doing,” Mr Payne said.
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was unable to attend the Centenary of the August Offensive commemorations in Turkey but he joined the other living VC recipients for the visit to Iraq.
“The work our troops are doing in Iraq is important for our national security and all of us [VC recipients] wanted to let them know that they’re doing a great job and their service and sacrifice is worthwhile,” Corporal Roberts-Smith said.
Following on from his visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Lieutenant General Campbell reflected on the historical significance of the Australian Army’s ongoing role in the Middle East.
“In remembering the service of the Anzacs a century ago, it is important to acknowledge the contemporary ADF, as well as our friends and colleagues in the New Zealand Defence Force, who continue to serve today,” Lieutenant General Campbell said.
“Throughout our Army’s involvement in operations overseas, including our recent history in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, our soldiers have actively trained and mentored our military partners.
“I am extremely proud of our soldiers and their work in Iraq. These extraordinary men and women are an integral part of the international effort to train and build the capacity of the regular Iraqi Security Forces.
“They do so with a high degree of professionalism, excellence and respect, while continuing to honour the Anzac tradition.”
Lieutenant General Campbell also met with Iraq’s Acting Chief of Staff of Iraqi Joint Forces Lieutenant General Othman Al Ghanemy and Head of Counter Terrorism Services General Dhia Kenani, along with Australian and coalition forces’ senior leadership to discuss Australia’s ongoing operations in Iraq.
Australia’s commitment to Iraq includes the Air Task Group, the Special Operations Task Group, Task Group Taji and a number of ADF personnel fulfilling coalition liaison roles.
Around 900 ADF personnel have deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Okra.
Before arriving in Iraq Lieutenant General Campbell travelled to Afghanistan, meeting with senior leaders from NATO and coalition forces.
Lieutenant General Campbell also visited the soldiers who are continuing to train and mentor the Afghan National Army.
While in Kabul, he visited the Officer and Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Academy where Australian personnel are working closely with British Army personnel.