Fight to save com­mando

Sunday Mail - - NEWS -

FOR the rest of the Aus­tralian com­mando pla­toon, the mes­sage yelled over their ra­dios al­most couldn’t have been worse: “We have a prior one ca­su­alty.”

But for Cor­po­ral Jody Tieche, when that ur­gent “pri­or­ity one” bel­lowed on that stink­ing hot day in the Afghan desert, he knew ex­actly what he needed to do. Tieche’s years of train­ing kicked in as he charged into the breach.

Com­mando Pri­vate Chad El­liott was lead scout and about 50m in front of the spe­cial forces foot pa­trol near Khas Oruz­gan when at least 20 Tal­iban fighters opened fire with AK47s and rocket-pro­pelled grenades.

One of the first shots smashed into the top of El­liott’s right leg. That same mo­ment, a grenade ex­ploded at his feet, spray­ing hot metal shrap­nel into his left arm and ab­domen.

“Get­ting shot was ba­si­cally like get­ting hit with a sledge­ham­mer,” El­liott said. “Then a hot sear­ing pain.”

For both Tieche and El­liott, it was a life-chang­ing mo­ment that en­cap­su­lates the role of voodoo medics – the lit­tle­known band of elite spe­cial­ist sol­diers who patch up the best of Aus­tralia’s fight­ing forces when the worst hap­pens on the bat­tle­field.

The 30-man pla­toon was weeks into a ve­hi­cle-based pa­trol through Uruz­gan prov­ince when they picked up en­emy ac­tiv­ity on a ridge line.

It was Au­gust 2007 and the fourth ro­ta­tion for Aus­tralia’s Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Task Group. And it was sum­mer – the tra­di­tional fight­ing sea­son – with 50C days “like hav­ing a hair dryer to your face”.

The pla­toon from 4RAR Cdo’s Al­pha Com­pany was out on the plains, flanked by moun­tains, when a burst of ra­dio chat­ter in­di­cated about 20 Tal­iban fighters in for­ti­fied po­si­tions on the cliff face were pre­par­ing to at­tack. The com­man­dos were ex­posed on the val­ley floor, with lit­tle cover.

As lead scout, El­liott copped the brunt of the am­bush. “I didn’t re­ally know where it came from,” he re­called from his home north of Syd­ney, speak­ing as part of News Corp’s Voodoo Medics se­ries which, on Re­mem­brance Day, recog­nises the in­cred­i­ble role of the fight­ing medics in our spe­cial forces. The bul­let en­try wound was the size of a fin­ger­nail but the round ripped a fist­sized hole through the then 25year-old’s back­side.

The bat­tle-hard­ened sol­dier, who was on his sec­ond de­ploy­ment to Afghanistan, rapidly lost blood and went into shock. Mates sprinted for­ward and dragged him be­hind a rock as the Aus­tralians con­tin­ued to ex­change fire at the en­emy above them.

A com­mando com­bat firstaid medic pro­vided the ini­tial treat­ment and the call went out to send for­ward a Bush­mas­ter ar­moured ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing the unit’s medic. “I heard it over the comms that we had a prior one ca­su­alty … and we were

Pic­ture: GARY RA­M­AGE

STRONG BOND: For­mer Army voodoo medic Jody Tieche saved the life of Pri­vate Chad El­liott.

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