Sav­ing lives and forg­ing bonds on the front­line is all in a day’s work


FOR the rest of the pla­toon, the mes­sage yelled over the ra­dio al­most could not have been worse: “We have a prior one ca­su­alty.”

But for Cor­po­ral Jody Tieche, the com­man­der’s ur­gent “prior one” — short for “pri­or­ity one’’ — call that stink­ing hot day in the Afghan desert was a chance to put years of med­i­cal train­ing to use — and to save a life.

Com­mando Pri­vate Chad El­liott was lead scout and about 50 me­tres in front of the foot pa­trol when at least 20 Tal­iban fighters opened fire with AK47s and rock­et­pro­pelled grenade launch­ers.

One of the first shots sent a high ve­loc­ity pro­jec­tile from a 7.62mm round smash­ing into El­liott’s right fe­mur. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, a grenade ex­ploded at his feet and sent siz­zling metal frag­ments into his left arm and ab­domen.

“Get­ting shot was ba­si­cally like get­ting hit with a sledge­ham­mer,” El­liott told TNheewDs Caiolyr­pTAelues­g­trapliha, “then a hot sear­ing pain af­ter­wards.”

For Tieche and El­liott, it was a life-chang­ing mo­ment that per­fectly en­cap­su­lates the role of Voodoo Medics. In an ex­clu­sive se­ries, the TNel­wegsrCapohrp has gone in­side the world of the lit­tle-known band of elite spe­cial­ist sol­diers who patch up the best of Aus­tralia’s fight­ing forces when the worst hap­pens to them.

The 30-man pla­toon from the for­mer 4th Bat­tal­ion, Royal Aus­tralian Reg­i­ment was weeks into a ve­hi­cle­based pa­trol through Uruz­gan prov­ince in Au­gust 2007 when they picked up en­emy ac­tiv­ity on a ridge line above.

It was the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Task Group’s fourth ro­ta­tion — and the tra­di­tional sum­mer fight­ing sea­son with 50C tem­per­a­tures “like hav­ing a hair dryer to your face”.

The pla­toon from 4RAR Cdo’s Al­pha Com­pany was near the town of Khas Oruz­gan when a burst of ra­dio chat­ter in­di­cated Tal­iban in for­ti­fied po­si­tions in the cliff face were pre­par­ing to at­tack.

The Aus­tralians were ex­posed on the val­ley floor, with lit­tle cover.

“Our pla­toon de­cided to do a dis­mounted pa­trol up to this ridge to do a bit of a re­con,” Tieche said.

As they crept up the moun­tain­side, “a hail of bul­lets and rocket fire” erupted. El­liott, then 25, copped the brunt of the am­bush.

“I didn’t re­ally know where it came from,” he re­called from his home at Avoca, north of Syd­ney.

“I just saw a cloud of dust come up around and bul­lets strik­ing the ground. From there I knew my leg was bro­ken. It just crum­pled un­der­neath me.”

The en­try wound was the size of a fin­ger­nail but the round ripped a fist-sized hole through his but­tock on the way out. The su­per fit sol­dier rapidly lost blood and went into shock.

Mates sprinted for­ward and dragged him be­hind a rock as the com­man­dos fired at the en­emy above them.

“They were shield­ing my body from gun­fire,” El­liott said. A com­mando pro­vided ini­tial treat­ment and the call went out to send for­ward a Bush­mas­ter ar­moured ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing the unit’s medic — co­de­named “Kilo”.

“I heard it over the comms that we had a prior 1 ca­su­alty and we were off,” said Tieche.

“As soon as I peeled around the back of ve­hi­cle we had some small arms fire.

“It was all go. I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘wow this is such a movie scene in it­self’.”

Iso­lated in the desert, the pla­toon could rely only on the equip­ment they had car­ried. Tieche used an an­tenna shot off a dam­aged ve­hi­cles as a splint for El­liott’s legs.

De­spite his wounds, El­liott still had his mind on the en­emy. “I man­aged to pull out my pis­tol and shoot off a few rounds … while I was be­ing treated,” he said. It would be the last time El­liott fired his gun in com­bat.

El­liott was ex­tracted to a “safe zone” where Tieche gave him in­tra­venous flu­ids, checked his mor­phine and mon­i­tored his vi­tal signs while they waited for an evac­u­a­tion he­li­copter.

“Jody was very con­fi­dent and re­laxed — just your typ­i­cal sur­fie, noth­ing would re­ally worry him,” said El­liott. “He’s per­fect as a medic.

“Jody’s treat­ment of me was per­fect. If it wasn’t good I’d be dead right now.”

A US Black­hawk evac­u­ated El­liott to the multi­na­tional base at Tarin Kowt, where Amer­i­can sur­geons sta­bilised him be­fore he was trans­ferred

to Kan­da­har for fur­ther treat­ment, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing shrap­nel. He was then flown to Ger­many, where sur­geons in­serted a ti­ta­nium rod to hold his hip and fe­mur to­gether, and fi­nally home to Syd­ney’s North Shore Pri­vate Hos­pi­tal.

It was six weeks be­fore he walked again and six months be­fore he re­de­ployed.

“I was pretty keen to get back there. I’d done all of my re­hab, my train­ing and I’d been passed to de­ploy,” he said. “It wasn’t un­til I got over there that it re­ally hit me. My body wasn’t quite up for it yet … but also men­tally get­ting back out there was very hard.”

As El­liott was about to pass out of the gate at Tarin Kowt for his pla­toon’s first “gig” of the trip, he re­alised he “couldn’t do it”.

“It was ex­tremely hard to leave the guys … it’s pretty much an­other fam­ily so to see them go out and go my sep­a­rate way was very hard for me,” he said.

“That was the hard­est de­ci­sion of my life.”

De­spite his in­juries, El­liott has no re­grets.

“I don’t think I’d change what hap­pened,” he said. “It was a lifechang­ing event, char­ac­ter build­ing, some­thing that I’ll never for­get. It’s changed me for the bet­ter.”

El­liott and Tieche were al­ready firm friends, hav­ing trained to­gether and find­ing they shared a love of surf­ing and ‘screamo’ bands. But a life­long bond was formed in the dirt that day 11 years ago.

“He’s the per­son who saved my life,” El­liott said. “It’s a pretty spe­cial thing. Not many peo­ple would have that. Al­though we don’t travel and see each other we’ll al­ways be friends. That will stay for­ever.”

pla­toon from the 4th Bat­tal­ion, Royal Aus­tralia Reg­i­ment, on pa­trol in south­ern Afghanistan in Au­gust 2007.

Cpl Jody Tieche works on Pvt Chad El­liott dur­ing an am­bush (main pic­ture) The medic (bot­tom right) and com­mando (bot­tom left) were at­tached to 4RAR.

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