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”.

1. T with AK47s and rock­et­pro­pelled grenades on ad­vanc­ing Aus­tralian pa­trol.2. Pri­vate Chad El­liott is se­ri­ously wounded while scout­ing about 50m ahead of a foot pa­trol.3. A Bush­mas­ter with medic Jody Tieche is sent for­ward into the am­bush zone to res­cue El­liott.4. They with­draw into the val­ley for a Mede­vac chop­per ex­trac­tion to Tarin Kowt.

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