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Welcome home ceremony for the third and final SASR Contingent's return from Afghanistan, Swanbourne Barracks, Western Australia: transcript of address.



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PRIME MINISTER

19 December 2002

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP ADDRESS AT THE WELCOME HOME CEREMONY FOR THE THIRD AND FINAL SASR CONTINGENT'S RETURN FROM AFGHANISTAN

SWANBOURNE BARRACKS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………………...

Well thank you very much General Cosgrove, Robert Hill the Defence Minister, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, the Attorney General, Fran Bailey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, the men of the SAS regiment and the families of the broader community of special forces in Australia.

This is an occasion when a nation comes together unconditionally to express both its thanks and its admiration for what the men of your regiment have done in the name of Australia. When Australian forces go abroad they do not go abroad in the name of any particular government, they go abroad in the name of all the Australian people and it is therefore appropriate that you should be welcomed back formally to the home base of your regiment on behalf of all of the Australian people.

Over past months you have magnificently upheld not only the traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force but the very special and illustrious position of the special forces of the ADF. You have a fine and well deserved reputation amongst your peers around the world. That is evidenced not only by the public commendation that you have received from our allies but also from the many private remarks passed to me and my colleagues by leaders of our allies about the work that you have done.

Our country finds itself in a new and different defence circumstance. The war against terror is probably something that many of us mightn’t have thought likely a decade ago, or even five years ago. But it’s a new and different and dangerous and threatening reality. It requires the special, highly developed professional skills that you have and it requires a special discipline that your training gives to you.

It also requires the love and the understanding of your wives and your parents and your children and your sweethearts who also carry from day to day the worry and the dread of bad news. Bad news came to one family, that of Andrew Russell and we think particularly of him, we think very much of all of the families and especially at Christmas. I understand from lieutenant Colonel Gilmore that this, for many of you, is the first Christmas you’ve had home

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for a couple of years. And I know that Santa and the children will have a very special resonance in your homes because of that. And can I, for myself, and I know for all Australians, say to the wives and the children and other family members and sweethearts of the men of the regiment, thank you for what you have done. Without your care and your support and without your understanding it wouldn’t have been possible.

To the men in the regiment, you have done wonderful work. The success of the coalition campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the role played battalion special forces in Operation Anaconda and the progress that has been made in the war against terror, in which you have played such an integral part, is something that all Australians admire and all Australians thank you for.

The process of committing the armed forces of a nation to military service is properly and very necessary to be a difficult one. It’s the hardest decision a government can ever takes. But in the end it is men like you who carry the ultimate responsibility and the ultimate danger. And as Prime Minister of Australia I’m very conscience of that and that is why I can’t express too deeply and too warmly the sense of admiration and gratitude I have for all of you.

A little while later I’ll be making, along with the Defence Minister and the CDF, some announcements about the enhancement of our forces, particularly in the area of special forces, very necessary as a consequence of the new circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

As part of that there’ll be the necessity of some promotion, which I know will be very warmly welcomed and very warmly applauded within the Defence Forces. But also collectively to the unit, can I say that I’ve been asked on behalf of the Governor General, who conveys his good wishes to you as Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces on this particular occasion, he’s been here on earlier occasions. I’ve been asked on his behalf to award the meritorious unit citation to the Special Air Service regiment in recognition of the magnificent work the regiment has done in the war against terror. The meritorious unit citation was introduced on the 15th of January 1991 to provide recognition to units for sustained outstanding service in war like operations. And out of the many existing Australian defence force units, only eight have previously been awarded the citation. It is therefore very appropriate on this occasion that I invite lieutenant Colonel Gus Gilmore to come forward to accept this citation on behalf of his regiment and the citation in its short form reads as follows:

“The Special Air Service regiment commitment to war like operations in Afghanistan has significantly contributed to the effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force’s support of Australia’s national interests. The regiment’s significant contribution to the effectiveness of the coalition's operation against global terrorism has drawn the highest praise and respect. The exceptional leadership and soldiering skills of the members of the regiment and their sustained outstanding performance are in the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.”

With those words I again thank you on behalf of your fellow countrymen and women and present the citation and the award to lieutenant Colonel Gilmore.

[ends]