AUSSIE HEROES SAVING LIVES ON FRONTLINE
EXCLUSIVE 8-PART SERIES STARTS TODAY
THE first rocket-propelled grenade exploded in the air above their heads, sending Delta Company ducking for cover. The next one dropped right on the Aussie patrol, sending white-hot shrapnel in all directions.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” said Corporal Jeremy Holder, one of a rare breed in the Australian military, a medic for the special forces — a fighting soldier whose first job is to save lives.
Within Australia’s Special Operations Command they’re known as Voodoo Medics and less than two dozen fill this prestigious role at any one time.
Starting today, The Daily Telegraph takes you inside the secret world of this elite squad. In rare interviews with six Voodoo Medics, special forces operators whose lives depend on them, and the families of those they could not save, we expose the heroism, tragedy and resilience of these remarkable men.
“They’re the ones we kind of love the most when we need them but the ones we don’t always think about when we don’t need them,” said Victoria Cross recipient Mark Donaldson, who knows firsthand the value of the medics from his seven tours of Afghanistan. “They’re there to save our lives. There are not many other jobs like them in the military that are so critical when that time comes.”
The battle Holder experienced during Operation Perth in 2006 was far from typical — it turned out to be one of the most intense during Australia’s 11-year war in Afghanistan — but it perfectly illustrates the role of the Voodoo Medics.
The Sydney-based platoon from 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (now 2nd Commando Regiment), was part of the international force clearing Taliban fighters from the Chora Valley when an urgent radio call came through that US troops nearby were taking heavy fire and needed help. A sergeant was already dead.
But as the Aussies approached, they were ambushed by insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades.
“I remember the first one bursting above us,” Holder said. “We hit the deck. Al-
These guys train to stick their hand in your chest and massage your heart.
Platoon commander Bram Connolly
most feeling like that Saving Private Ryan (scene), where you see the dirt exploding around you. That’s exactly what it was like.”
He saw his platoon sergeant, call sign Bravo, go down first: “I remember just looking up and seeing our Bravo say he’s hit and grab his leg.”
Holder, the unit’s only trained medic, rushed forward to treat the sergeant. AK-47 automatic rifle fire joined the grenades.
As he did, the cry “Kilo!” — his call sign, indicating there was another casualty in need of attention — came over the radio. Then it came again. And again. “I remember them asking for the Kilo … and then just thinking: ‘S..., well how many have we got? And how serious?’” he said.
Holder crawled and then sprinted between the wounded, gunfire spitting up rocks and dirt around him: “I didn’t really have time to think. I was just working out where I was needed, who needed me.”
By the end of the day, Holder had patched up six Australian commandos and their Afghan interpreter. He didn’t know it then, but he had also just earned the Medal of Gallantry.
The Voodoo Medics series unpacks the experiences of six medics who have served in Australia’s Special Operations Command since 2003 — their mental health battles, survivor’s guilt and the contradictions of their complex roles, which included helping Afghan civilians and even enemy fighters.
“It wasn’t unusual for a ‘kilo’ to carry a mortar,” Bram Connolly, a former platoon commander from 2 Cdo Regt. “You’ve got this guy whose job it is to save the lives of the men he’s with and, at the same time, he’s carrying a weapon of destruction that we’re going to use against the enemy. It’s an incredible role when you think of it like that.”
The medics are expected to meet the same standards as the units with which they serve, though they do not undergo the same gruelling selection processes. Just 5.5 per cent of the medics in the Australian Defence Force are posted to Special Operations Command. “You forget that these guys are shooting, moving and communicating with the commandos but really they’re not actually trained for that,” Connolly said. “These guys train to stick their hand in your chest and massage your heart. He’s trained to stop your arterial bleeding.”
From losing mates in the battlefield to treating horrifically wounded Afghan children in remote surgical theatres, the medics see their job as critical.
“It was a really intimate position to hold, to be honest, to be that doctor or that medic on the ground looking after mates of yours in those environments,” said Dan Pronk, who deployed with two Special Forces units — 2 Cdo and the Special Air Service Regiment.
And a vein of dark humour runs through it. The Voodoo Medics motto is a promise to their Special Forces teammates: “We’ll do the voodoo so you can do what you do.”
Holder said the hallmark of a kilo is to “be an asset, not a liability” to the elite fighters with whom they deploy. “Just be good at your job. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be jack, as they say,” he said. “Your job is to make sure that everyone comes home alive. Sometimes it doesn’t happen.”
That Saving Private Ryan scene, where you see the dirt exploding around you. That‘s exactly what it was like. Voodoo Medic Jeremy Holder
Voodoo Medic Corporal Jeremy Holder pictured on the ground in Afghanistan.
Jeremy Holder clasping his Army dog tags, and (below) Victoria Cross recipient Mark Donaldson, who has first-hand experience of the Voodoo Medics’ amazing work.