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Inquiries begin into soldier's death -

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Inquiries begin into soldier's death

Sabra Lane reported this story on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: To the defence training exercise in South Australia which went so horribly wrong
overnight. Members of the Defence Force today expressed their condolences to the family and friends
of 30 year old Lance Corporal Mason Edwards, who was killed during a live ammunition training
exercise near Whyalla.

The corporal was shot in the head and was declared dead at the scene. Defence Force Chief Angus
Houston said it was a devastating blow both for the soldier's family and for his colleagues, who
are preparing to go to Afghanistan.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Defence chiefs were due to front a Senate Estimates inquiry this morning to discuss
progress on reform within the Defence Department yet they had to start the hearing with grim news
and condolences.

Overnight at the Cultana training range near Whyalla in South Australia, 30 year old Lance Corporal
Mason Edwards, a soldier with the Army's elite 2nd Commando Regiment based in Sydney, was seriously
injured during a night time live ammunition training exercise.

The Defence Minister John Faulkner and Defence Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

JOHN FAULKNER: This tragic incident really does highlight the very dangerous work that our special
forces soldiers do both here in Australia in their training, and of course in operations overseas.
On behalf of the Government, I want to offer my very sincere condolences to the families concerned,
particularly of course to the family of the soldier that has died.

ANGUS HOUSTON: And to the other members of the unit who are preparing to deploy, I encourage them
to be there for each other as they deal with this loss. This will be a devastating blow to them.
They are a tight knit unit who have been working very hard to be the best that they can be once
deployed.

SABRA LANE: Another soldier was injured during the exercise. It's expected he'll be discharged from
hospital today. The Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, explained a few of the details
of what happened last night.

KEN GILLESPIE: During the activity, Lance Corporal Edwards received gunshot wounds to the head and
another soldier received small arms fire shrapnel wounds to his arm. Immediate first aid was
provided to both soldiers by their mates who were also involved in the training activity.

A civilian helicopter responded to a call for assistance from the unit, but tragically Lance
Corporal Edwards succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene by medical
personnel.

SABRA LANE: There are now two inquiries into the shooting, one conducted by Defence and the other
by the South Australian police. The name of the injured solider will not be released.

General Gillespie says Lance Corporal Edwards was preparing for his third deployment to
Afghanistan.

KEN GILLESPIE: And I can tell you that he considered himself lucky to live in this great country
and to have the love and support of his family and partner. You will learn more about this great
Australian in the days to come.

SABRA LANE: The exercise the Corporal was involved in is considered critical to soldiers preparing
for deployment to Afghanistan.

KEN GILLESPIE: Although this is clearly a very tragic accident, mission rehearsal exercises do save
lives on operations.

SABRA LANE: The General says live ammunition must be used if soldiers are to be fully prepared for
combat.

KEN GILLESPIE: In a task of this nature, our special force soldiers act in unison to apply lethal
force in a complex environment. Such a task is one element of the comprehensive mission-specific
training which precludes a demanding mission rehearsal exercise always conducted by special forces
and indeed all army elements prior to operations.

It is in an integral part of army's force preparation procedures and culminates, in this case, in
the special forces commander certifying to me that his troops are competent and ready to undertake
the full array of military tasks ahead of the unit's deployment.

SABRA LANE: The event last night was a mission rehearsal exercise. The Defence chief couldn't say
if night goggles were used, or if this particular exercise was indoors.

KEN GILLESPIE: On this occasion they were getting ready for operations in Afghanistan, so compound
clearance, house clearance, working in confined spaces in rural areas and urban areas, are the
sorts of tasks that they would be rehearsing for.

And they're sort of the most dangerous task that we can have in those sort of spaces, both in terms
of an opposition in a confined space prepared to receive them when they come, and also in this
nature the potential, if they're not very well trained in this regard, to do harms to themselves.

SABRA LANE: A critical incident support team is being assembled now to send to South Australia to
offer support and counselling to soldiers if they need it.

KEN GILLESPIE: And that team is a free form organisation, it can include doctors, padres,
psychologists, it can include friends of the people who are there, or other professionals who have
lived through the same sort of activities.

SABRA LANE: The Army chief says he expects the soldiers involved will still be deployed to
Afghanistan, unless investigators advise him otherwise.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane reporting.