Humour proves to be just the tonic
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.