Thursday, May 29, 2008

"We were soldiers once..."

H/T: Pat Dollard

Diggers 'ashamed' to wear Aussie uniform

May 27, 2008 06:51am

THE exclusion of Australian troops from frontline conflicts, including in Iraq, has left many feeling ashamed to wearing their uniform, an army major says.

Major Jim Hammett, who has served in East Timor, Iraq, Somalia and Tonga, also said the policy had exposed Australian infantry troops to "near contempt'' from other foreign soldiers now serving in Iraq, Fairfax has reported.

"In the opinion of many infantrymen, the lauding of their contributions to recent operations does not ring true,'' Major Hammett writes in the Australian Army Journal.

"Many within its ranks suspect that the role of the infantry has already been consigned to history ... the ongoing inaction (in Iraq) ... has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet force protected Australian troops.''

Major Hammett said the infantry, which makes up about a third of the army's combat forces, had not been assigned offensive actions since the Vietnam War despite steady overseas deployments since 2001.

It was only Australia's special forces, including the SAS, that were sent on offensive operations, he said.

"The restrictions placed on deployed elements as a result of force protection and national policies have, at times, made infantrymen ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform and regimental badge,'' Major Hammett wrote.

''(They) have resulted in the widespread perception that our army is plagued by institutional cowardice.''

In a separate article cited by Fairfax, Captain Greg Colton, second in command of the Sydney-based 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, said infantry morale had deteriorated in the past 10 years as regular infantry units were given only "second-rate operational tasks''.

"There is a growing sense of frustration,'' Captain Colton wrote.

"The government and army hierarchy seem to favour special forces for deliberate offensive operations and tasks ... at a lower level the diggers, NCOs and junior officers are starting to question the infantry's role and their part in it, which is having a tangible effect on morale.''

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