Exit Wounds

Stuff reports:

Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan.

This is the 39th Australian soldier to have been killed in the war in Afghanistan since 2002.

The soldier’s next of kin have been notified.

Australia currently has about 1550 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

In August, the ADF suffered its darkest day since the Vietnam War when it lost five soldiers in two separate incidents.

This included two soldiers in a helicopter accident in Helmand Province and three soldiers in a  “green on blue” attack north of Tarin Kowt.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith will speak from Sydney later this morning.

By coincidence I read yesterday the book Exit Woundsby Major General . The synopsis sums it up:

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will beunmoved, nor forget its imagery or words.

I highly recommend this book.

The section on the Gulf War was fascinating. He was a Major and meant to be a liaison officer between the US and British forces, which meant travelling all over the place to liaison points, to find no one there. Several times they almost got killed by friendly fire – and once found themselves 20 kms in advance of the coalition forces, meaning that had to drive towards the coalition forces from the Iraqi side.

Also he describes the scenes of bodies buried in the ground as tanks with blades had crushed all in their sights. That was the start of the nightmares.

In Iraq in 2006 he was a Brigadier or one star general. He dealt regularly with senior Iraqi leaders and his stories of their duplicity and betrayal are eye openers. He also has several near misses with death and see first hand the results of a massive bomb. You get a feeling of what it is like having 100 or so people a day die, mainly civilians.

Then in 2010 he was a Major General and the commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He disobeyed orders to go out on patrol with some of his men, and again there were many close calls with death. However it was the 10 Australian men who died that hit him hardest, and the scenes of him fare-welling them after he has formally identified them are incredibly moving.

Generals are not meant to admit that they can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and Cantwell’s book has probably done his fellow soldiers a great service in allowing them to recognise and get treatment also if they need it. It is hard to imagine anyone being totally untouched by the scenes of carnage Cantwell describes. One can only imagine how much worse great slaughters such as WWI were.


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