Local’s Afghanistan connection
Popularly known as ‘Mick’, he was born in Yarrawonga in 1959, attended Sacred Heart Primary School to Grade 4, moved to Melbourne in 1970, joined the Army in 1978 and had two overseas deployments, to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2010; then returned to Yarrawonga in 2018.
Deployed to Tarin Kot with the Mentoring Task Force – One in Afghanistan, his role was mentoring and training a particular group of men to gain intelligence on Taliban operations and to infiltrate these organisations.
“That’s about all I can say on that one as the Official Secrets Act precludes me from giving any further detail until at least 2031,” he said.
“I have always referred to Afghanistan as the ‘wild west’. It is the toughest place I have served in and was dangerous 99.9% of the time. There were several trips outside the wire, which were dangerous and exciting at the same time. A two-way rifle range, is not exactly fun!
“The highlights are many, but, just to be able to serve our nation and defend its interests are reward enough.”
Mick’s thoughts today are the same as yesteryear. “Whilst the unfolding events are difficult for the majority of the Afghan nation, during my deployment in 2010, we began to see the writing on the wall. Our rotations mission was to mentor our Afghan partners and to provide them with the tools necessary to rebel the Taliban forces once we were gone.
“During my time, there were approximately 350,000 Afghan security force members within the country and approximately 150,000 Taliban fighters, both in Afghan, but the majority being in Pakistan. The Pakistan government harboured them and they came and went as they pleased through the Hindu Kush. Small forward operating bases, mainly manned by the US forces monitored this. They were careful not to leave a large footprint and only harassed the FOBs (forward operating bases) then fled back to Pakistan.”
Afghanistan is made up of about 16 major tribes, the major one being Pashtun. But within that tribe, there are about 350 to 400 tribes or clans. They are the ruling tribe in Afghanistan and the major Taliban stronghold.
“Given that fact, you can imagine that many members of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) would also be Pashtun,” Mick said. “I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
“What the coalition forces did was to provide first class training and equipment to allow the ANSF to protect and defend their country after our withdrawal. The fact that they have not, tells me a lot about their tribal system. They are loyal, firstly to their tribe, then their country, which has allowed the Taliban to sweep through the country and get the ANSF to lay down their weapons and in turn, they have scooped up these weapons, vehicles, ammunition, aircraft, etcetera and are now theirs to use against the weaker tribes.
“A perfect example of this tribal system happened when I was there. The Afghan Colonel in charge of his troops was from the Hazara tribe, his Lieutenant was from a clan of the Pashtun tribe, he could not tell the Lieutenant what to do as he was from an inferior tribe, but was far superior in rank. What hope do they have?
“Obviously, we entered Afghan to flush out Al Qaeda as a coalition partner, not the Taliban. They were collateral damage or a secondary target as they agreed to harbour Al Qaeda. Once Bin Laden was dead, the Taliban were the main focus.”
With the Taliban back in power, Mick’s main concern is that Al Qaeda will reinvigorate and worldwide terrorist attacks will once again start to occur and with the world in a pandemic it is an optimum time for both planning and execution with many countries solely focused on COVID.
“Our soldiers did not die in vain, it was right and just, it is what we, as Australians do, protect downtrodden societies who are in need, and when we are called upon, we stand up and do our job,” Mick said.
Mick’s first overseas deployment took him to IRAQ in 2008 as the Personnel/Operations Warrant Officer in Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 (JTF633) in Baghdad.
“Our headquarters was based in Saddam’s mother-in-law’s small, 55 room palace!” he said. “It was a great deployment, being in minimal danger and well protected by US security forces. One incident included a 107mm rocket landing about 80 metres from me whilst eating dinner. Close, but not close enough!” For that tour Mick was awarded a Silver Commendation for the development of a real time battle casualty procedure that ensured that Australia’s KIA and WIA soldiers were evacuated back home to their families and loved ones.
Micks’ grandfather, Adam Spring (5th Battalion, WWI) and various uncles and aunties who served in WWII gave him an insight into military service. “My brother-in-law’s brother was serving in Victoria in 1978 and guided me into the decision to join,” Mick said.
Mick matriculated from Monash High School in Risden. He joined the Australian Regular Army on July 12, 1978.
After recruit training he was allocated, as a private soldier, to the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery and did his corps (trade) training at the School of Artillery in Manly, Sydney. His first posting was to Brisbane and then posted up and down the east coast for the next 34 years or so, including, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
On his first posting in Brisbane, Mick met the love of his life, Donna and the happy couple have recently clocked up 41 years of marriage.
Upon joining the Army, he continued with Aussie Rules, played Rugby Union and badminton, representing the Army in Aussie Rules and Badminton.
“Like most Victorian country kids, I played Aussie Rules of course, starting in the infamous Gold Team here in Yarra down at the Grove in the 60s,” Mick said. “Tennis was another sport I played here in Yarra and athletics carnivals as a youngster at Wilby, Peechelba and Almonds, running to win an orange!
“In Melbourne during my teenage years I played for Mt Waverley, Oakleigh and had a stint in the under 19s football at South Melbourne prior to joining
As the last United States troops left Afghanistan last week after 20 years of war, the Yarrawonga Chronicle caught up with retired Warrant Officer Class One - the highest non-commissioned rank in the Australian Army, Michael Spring.
the Army. In summer, I competed for Waverley Athletics Club in 100, 200, long jump and hurdles.”
The decorated 63-year-old retired warrant office class 1 represented Army at golf and was the vicecaptain of the Australian Defence Force Golf Association for three years.
Mick’s current handicap is 10, having been on seven last summer at Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort. His lowest ever was six, at Royal Military Golf Club in Canberra where he was also the club’s vice-president.
In January this year, Mick became Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort’s newest board director. “I absolutely love being a director at the club,” he said. “It allows me to have an ability to discuss and on occasions, implement meaningful content for the members (The Blue Tree, being one).
“I am a community-based person and love giving back, having previously founded and operated a veteran homelessness not-for-profit organisation which helped house in excess of 500 veterans and their families. That organisation has now become bigger and has been taken over by V360 Australia based in Perth and continues to assist the veteran community. I was the initial Patron for V360.”
Without a doubt, Mick said, YMGCR is the best public access course in Australia. “From Evan (Droop) and his wonderful staff in the pro shop, to ‘Burgo’ (Chris Burgess) and his awesome team who provide that 45 holes in amazing condition week in, week out. Then there’s the executive staff, bar staff and kitchen staff, all of whom are proud to provide the best experience when members and visitors alike visit the club.
“Donna and I love living here in Yarra and enjoy the community that both Yarra and Mul offer towards our lifestyle.”