Citation for troops who risked their safety to help Somalis

Meritorious Unit Citations (MUC) have been awarded to ADF units that served in Somalia between 1992 and 1995.

CAPTIONAustralian Army Medic, then Sergeant Joanne Cook, examines a little girl with malaria in February 1993. Story by Corporal Luke Bellman. Photo by Corporal Gary Ramage.

At the end of 2023, 1RAR Battalion Group, Australian Service Contingents (ASC I, II, III and IV), and HMAS Tobruk received the MUC for their sustained outstanding service in warlike operations.

About 1500 ADF personnel were deployed on Operations Iguana and Solace to support the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia and contributed to the US-led, UN-sanctioned, Unified Task Force.

Deployed to one of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, they performed their work with enormous professionalism while risking their own safety to support a civilian population in desperate need.

The MUC recognises the tireless efforts of the members of these ADF units to support the UN’s mission.

Eligible ADF members will receive the insignia via their current unit.

Former ADF members who believe they are eligible are encouraged to apply directly to the Department of Defence, through the Defence Medals online application form.

Individuals who were members of the units during the period to which the citation relates are entitled to be issued and wear the citation’s insignia with the Federation Star in perpetuity.

One member entitled to wear the citation, medic Warrant Officer Class Two (WO2) Joanne Cook hadn’t seen a gunshot wound in real life until deploying to Somalia 30 years ago.

Apart from treating several locals injured during the violence, towards the end of her deployment Australian soldier 21-year-old Lance Corporal Shannon McAliney was accidentally shot in the chest at point-blank range.

“He was brought into the treatment centre and we began working on him,” she said.

“It was clockwork – he received the best treatment that anyone could have given.”

Unfortunately, Lance Corporal McAliney couldn’t be saved because of the seriousness of the injury and became the only Australian soldier to die in Somalia.

“It was a real eye-opener – horrible, but exciting at the same time,” WO2 Cook said.

Almost 1500 Australians served in Somalia from 1992 to 1994.

In October 1992, the Australian Government sent a contingent of 211 ADF personnel to Somalia for Operation Iguana.

When the situation in Somalia continued to deteriorate, the United Task Force was established.

WO2 Cook was part of 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) Battalion Group, attached to the task force codenamed Operation Solace.

The battalion group was responsible for humanitarian relief in Baidoa, a town referred to as the ‘city of death’.

“Conditions were austere, we didn’t have a roof over our head,” WO2 Cook said.

“There were six girls in one room sleeping on stretchers.

“We showered with shower buckets filled by a jerrycan of water left out in the sun to heat up.

“We all had nothing.”

Throughout the deployment, the Aussies were exposed to extensive human suffering brought on by drought, famine and war.

WO2 Cook said numerous children she encountered were malnourished or diseased.

“They were extremely sick kids,” she said.

The battalion group would take ambulances out to certain locations to conduct sick parades.

Within a few hours, there would be hundreds of people lined up waiting to be seen and treated.

“I saw a lot of intestinal worms that I hadn’t seen before – they were coming out of people’s mouths,” she said.

“We had a few blankets to spare so I would cut them in half and throw them out of the window when kids walked past, so they’d stop and pick them up, in hope of giving them a little bit of comfort.”

WO2 Cook saw no buildings that weren’t stripped down, the contents of which were either used for firewood or destroyed.

They were encouraged not to give food to the locals because it would set an expectation more would be provided.







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