Hu­mour proves to be just the tonic

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - NEWS - KRISTIN SHORTEN KRISTIN SHORTEN BE­YOND THE WIRE 3 4 2

AS the bat­tle raged around them, Jody Tieche wanted to calm Chad El­liott’s nerves as well as tend to the bul­let wound in his up­per thigh.

So, in the great Aussie tra­di­tion, he cracked a joke.

The ex­act words can’t be re­peated here, but the lewd com­ment did the trick and changed the mood in a mo­ment that for most peo­ple would amount to unimag­in­able stress.

“It was along the lines of how close the gun­shot wound was to his tackle,” Tieche said.

“It was pretty funny at the time, given the cir­cum­stances and how much ten­sion was in that sit­u­a­tion.”

Black hu­mour is a com­mon — and healthy — cop­ing mech­a­nism among sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to for­mer mil­i­tary psy­chol­o­gist Ma­jor Clint Marl­bor­ough, who served with Syd­ney’s 2nd Com­mando Reg­i­ment.

“Dark or gal­lows hu­mour is an in­cred­i­bly good way to cope with a trau­matic sit­u­a­tion be­cause we can’t nor­malise some sit­u­a­tions but we can try to take the in­ten­sity out of them. If we mock them they don’t seem as bad.”

El­liott said Tieche’s joke was one of the few things he re­mem­bered about the day he was shot on pa­trol in south­ern Afghanistan.

“I guess that’s a pretty Aus­tralian thing,” he said.

“The dark hu­mour def­i­nitely helped.”

Marl­bor­ough said dark hu­mour in­cluded things that would seem “grossly in­ap­pro­pri­ate” if taken out of the con­text of the in­tense sit­u­a­tion where it oc­curs.

For­mer com­mando Ma­jor Bram Con­nolly said the prac­tice dated back to Gal­lipoli.

“I re­call sto­ries about guys on the way out of the trench ... walk­ing past and shak­ing the hand of some­one who had been killed,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously that’s not funny, but it prob­a­bly was to them.

“For us it can be a sim­i­lar thing. Once we were pa­trolling ... and a huge ex­plo­sion hap­pened and the Tal­iban started shoot­ing and some­one yelled out ‘awe­some, they’re shoot­ing at us’.

“We all started laugh­ing. Then we started shoot­ing back.” 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 The Daily Tele­graph, “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 Tele­graph 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.

Watch the in­cred­i­ble bat­tle­field footage of the Voodoo Medics in Part 2 of our ex­clu­sive doc­u­men­tary se­ries.

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