Com­mando’s In­vic­tus life­line

The West Australian - - NEWS - Liam Croy

With less than three min­utes un­til the com­man­dos reached their tar­get deep in Tal­iban ter­ri­tory, the Black Hawk he­li­copter was skim­ming across rugged ter­rain at break­neck speed.

A low and fast ap­proach in the dark of night would give the in­sur­gents as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble to pre­pare for the at­tack.

They needed ev­ery ad­van­tage they could get as they closed in on the Tal­iban strong­hold of Chenartu on June 21, 2010.

It was their fi­nal op­er­a­tion of the East­ern Shah Wali Kot of­fen­sive, a joint ef­fort be­tween the Spe­cial Air Ser­vice Reg­i­ment and 2nd Com­mando Reg­i­ment.

Cpl Ben Roberts-Smith earned a Vic­to­ria Cross for his ac­tions 10 days ear­lier.

Pla­toon Sgt Peter Rud­land, from York, was sit­ting clos­est to one of the Black Hawk’s doors, strapped in as it de­scended from about 300m to hug the con­tours of the earth.

A spe­cial op­er­a­tions vet­eran who had moved across from the SASR to the com­man­dos, Sgt Rud­land was on his fourth Mid­dle East de­ploy­ment. He would not fight again.

Three Aus­tralian com­man­dos and a US soldier were killed when the Black Hawk crashed at 3.39am. Sgt Rud­land was thrown 35m from the he­li­copter.

The next thing he re­mem­bers is wak­ing in a Ger­man hospi­tal with bro­ken bones, or­gan dam­age and bleed­ing on the brain.

“I broke most of the ma­jor bones in my body,” he said.

“My ri­fle ac­tu­ally em­bed­ded into my leg. I got a zero count on my nerve con­duc­tion stud­ies so I was told based on those re­sults I was un­likely to walk again.”

Sgt Rud­land tried to stay pos­i­tive through his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in WA. As the grand­son of a World War II vet­eran who even­tu­ally died of his wounds, he knew what he had signed up for.

“The guy sit­ting di­rectly in front of me died. The guy who was sit­ting back-to-back with me died. The guy who was sit­ting in front of him died,” he said. “I al­ways looked at it in the sense that I was the lucky one.”

De­spite his pos­i­tiv­ity, some­thing was lack­ing. He could walk, some­times with the help of a stick, but he missed train­ing.

He found the miss­ing piece of the puz­zle at the War­rior Games in the US, a sports meet for sick or in­jured vet­er­ans. Re­cum­bent cy­cling did not cause him pain.

In 2016 in Flor­ida, Sgt Rud­land com­peted at Prince Harry’s In­vic­tus Games.

The next year he co-cap­tained the Aus­tralian team at the In­vic­tus Games in Toronto, where he won gold in the re­cum­bent cy­cling time trial and cri­terium.

He was med­i­cally dis­charged from the army in 2017. The fa­ther of four moved to NSW with his wife in De­cem­ber.

Mr Rud­land will de­fend his cy­cling ti­tles at this month’s In­vic­tus Games in Syd­ney. In the cri­terium, he will part­ner re­tired Sgt Garry Robin­son, a for­mer com­mando sniper team leader who was badly in­jured in the Black Hawk crash.

“I call Garry ‘Mr In­vic­tus’. He was an out­stand­ing soldier — sec­ond-to-none,” he said.

“But he was so bro­ken. To come back and do so well just typ­i­fies what it’s about. Words can’t re­ally de­scribe how much this stuff does for soldiers.”

Peter Rud­land is now an Aus­tralian In­vic­tus Games Team mem­ber.

Sgt Rud­land on de­ploy­ment.

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