LIFETIME OF SERVICE
THE LINK BETWEEN THE NATION’S IDENTITY AND HORRID HISTORY SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN. ONE HUNDRED YEARS ON, WE STILL REMEMBER WHAT WAS LOST
In any given year, Remembrance Day marks a momentous event on our nation’s calendar. However, tomorrow is particularly meaningful, signifying the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought an end to World War I. Although Australians will pause to remember the memory of all those who’ve served since then, World War I marked a turning point in our country’s history. Major General Shane Caughey, 56, who retired after 38 years of service a few months ago, says World War I fundamentally shaped who we are as a nation. “At that stage, we were a nation of 4.5 million people, and we had over 60,000 killed on the battlefield. Within 10 years of the end of World War I, a further 60,000 people had died from their injuries or mental struggles,” Maj-gen Caughey says. “That’s a huge catastrophe that touched every family in the nation at that time: it really did shape who we were. We were a young country, and we were still looking for a national identity of what would bind us together. “Unfortunately, it was the tragedy and hardship of World War I that really became our common story. It was something that all Australians could associate with, which is why I think it is so embedded in our society and why recognising days like Remembrance Day is so significant.” With career deployments across the globe, including the US, Iran, Israel and Afghanistan, Maj-gen Caughey has called the Sunshine Coast home since December last year, and will deliver the address at tomorrow’s Caloundra RSL service. He says the focus of the address will be in recognising those who have served our nation, as well as the importance of pausing as a nation to remember them. “It’s important to acknowledge the tragedy of World War I, and going beyond that to remember all service men and women who have served so magnificently to keep our nation the free, fair and tolerant society that we live in,” he says. “Back then (1918), people thought it was going to be the war to end all wars, so to them, it was a great celebration that all the sacrifice was over. But history has told us, unfortunately, that was far from the truth. “Since then, as a nation, we’ve had to continually send young men and women to fight on behalf of the nation.” Maj-gen Caughey says 102,000 members of the Australian Defence Force have died in operations, and there are thousands of others with physical and mental injuries who continue to have to deal with the challenges of those injuries. But he understands that war is just one side of the peace coin. He says that although the defence force is fundamentally there to defend the nation, part of its role is also to break down tensions that exist externally, engaging with regional nations at all levels to ensure and build mutual trust, friendship and relationships which may hopefully prevent the need for conflict. It is evidenced by his three separate deployments with the United Nations: firstly in 1989-90 following the Iran/iraq war to monitor the ceasefire, negotiating with both sides to reduce tensions and prevent a return to fighting. He has also been deployed to Jerusalem as Chief Operations Officer to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and neighbouring Arab States (2001-02), and as a Commanding Officer of the 6th Battalion in East Timor (2004), for which he was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross. The Australian Defence Force also does a lot of humanitarian work, particularly in our region. Whenever there’s a catastrophe – whether it’s a cyclone or an earthquake or tsunami – the Australian Defence Force is very much at the forefront of bringing assistance to those people who are suffering. Similarly, when the resources of our emergency services become over extended, they also pitch in at times of natural disaster. While working with the United Nations was an opportunity Maj-gen Caughey thoroughly enjoyed, he says his career highlight was the opportunity to command soldiers as an army officer, commanding the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Brisbane, and 3rd Brigade in Townsville. He says while it is an incredible responsibility, it is also a privilege to be given the opportunity to lead the people who volunteer to serve our nation, all the while knowing they are putting themselves in life-threatening situations. “The main thing I got out of it was the friendships and the camaraderie that you develop with fellow soldiers and officers when you are undergoing a lot of difficult, challenging experiences,” he says. “When you go through those events together, you really do build a strong bond between each other that lasts for a lifetime. “Sometimes the challenges are physical: when you do things together and you’re mentally and physically exhausted and you come through the other side. Sometimes they’re the dangerous situations that you find yourself in, and you have to work through them together. Sometimes it’s just dealing with the outcomes of those situations.” Maj-gen Caughey says when he first joined the army he didn’t have the view that it would be his career. Initially it was just going to be for a few years after high school. And it helped that his older brother, Michael, would be in the same unit. But he says when he got into the army, he enjoyed it, and then pursued a lot of his study through that avenue, including a Bachelor of Professional Studies at the University of New England, Masters of Defence Studies at the University of Canberra and a Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management at the Australian Army Command and Staff College and the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies. More than anything, Maj-gen Caughey says he’s been always surrounded by a fantastic group of individuals who could be relied upon to provide great advice and support. “It’s an organisation that’s built on teamwork and trust,” he says. “Any organisation is dynamic and always changing and the army is no exception. It has gone through, and continues to go through, incredible change to adjust to the requirements of the job, its operations and the changing society that we live in.” This Remembrance Day, it’s an organisation for which we can all be thankful.
TREASURED MEMORIES: Shane Caughey (main photo). TOP (left to right): Bruce Walker, Shane Caughey and Don Cousins arrive on board HMAS Choules from a Blackhawk Helicopter; with wife Carol and children Anne, Alexandria and Harry in Washington; Shane Caughey inspecting the troops of the 01/12 Junior Leaders Course; Shane Caughey in Cairns; with daughter Anne in Hawaii, 1998; Officer Cadet School graduation in 1983 at Portsea, Victoria.