Standing up for Canberra

Sergeant Brett Wood 2011

I rise today to support the condolence motion for Sergeant Brett Wood, who was tragically killed on 23 May, Afghanistan time, as a result of the explosion of an improvised explosive device. Sergeant Wood was a much decorated and respected member of the Sydney based 2nd Commando Regiment. He was only 32 years of age and leaves a young wife and a close group of family and friends. His ramp ceremony was held on Tuesday at RAAF Base Richmond where members of 2 Commando formed a guard of honour to receive his casket. His family and special forces personnel were also at the ramp ceremony.

This will be a dreadful week for his family, and I imagine that the coming years will be dreadful too. However, I would like them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them as they face the grim reality of life without a much loved and devoted husband, son, friend and colleague.

Sergeant Wood was a Victorian by birth, harking from Ferntree Gully. He joined the Army in 1996 at the age of 18 and, following training, he joined the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. He successfully undertook commando training and then joined the then 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment—now 2 Commando—in November 1998. So a commando he was by the age of 20. Clearly, Sergeant Wood was a man with significant skills and leadership qualities to achieve so much so quickly.

Two years later he was deployed to Bougainville for his first significant operational experience. Further major operational experience followed with deployment to East Timor on Operation Tanager in 2001. In 2003, he was part of Operation Falconer in Iraq and, in 2006, he was deployed to Operation Slipper in Afghanistan. He was deployed again to Operation Slipper in 2009 and 2011, and it was this last tour of duty that resulted in his tragic death. It was during Operation Slipper that he was awarded the Medal of Gallantry for leadership in action as team commander.

Other awards Sergeant Wood received for his outstanding service include the Australian Active Service Medal with clasps: East Timor, International Coalition Against Terrorism and Iraq 2003; Afghanistan Campaign Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal; Australian Service Medal with clasps: Bougainville, Counter Terrorism and Special Recovery clasp; Defence Long Service Medal; Australian Defence Medal; United Nations East Timor Medal; NATO ISAF Medal; Special Operations Command Australia Commendation; and Unit Citation for Gallantry. He was also awarded the Infantry Combat Badge. These are all incredible achievements for such a young man and a testament to his courage and leadership.

Like my colleague who spoke before, I met soldiers like Sergeant Wood during my recent tour of Afghanistan. I was there for five days about two weeks ago in Tarin Kowt, Kandahar and Kabul as part of the Defence Subcommittee tour. I was overwhelmed by the gritty and determined Australians who are focused on stamping out terrorism and building a safe Afghanistan.

Soldiers are a very loyal bunch. They feel the loss of their fellow soldiers very deeply and they also honour them very deeply. While I was there I met a number of commandos. They are a whole different group of people. They work very closely together in incredibly challenging conditions and are doing incredibly challenging jobs. They are like a brotherhood. Whenever one of their brothers is killed in action or is injured, they make little bracelets. A number of them had bracelets commemorating each of their brothers who had died in action in Afghanistan. Some had a string of bracelets with a number of names on them, some had bands with knots on them with each knot signifying one of their brothers, and others had particular necklaces. They had different, personal ways of remembering their brothers. As I have said, they are a very close group who do incredibly challenging work in incredibly challenging conditions. They are a deeply loyal, incredibly fit and incredibly well-trained group of young men—an extraordinary group of men. I imagine that this loss will be like a knife through their heart. They will be grieving the loss of their mate very seriously. They will also be grieving the loss of a colleague, a fine soldier and an exemplary leader. They need to know, as they do, they are making Afghanistan and this world a better place. They have a very strong commitment to bringing about a safe, secure and stable Afghanistan. They are very clear about the mission and are very driven to achieve that mission.

Sergeant Wood's tragic death has no doubt caused his colleagues to pause and contemplate their own mortality. I can only pay tribute to them all for their selfless act of supporting a country that, until it received the support of countries like Australia, had struggled to find safe haven. I really do commend them for their hard work in dealing with incredibly challenging conditions.

As Sergeant Wood's death was the 24th death in action in Afghanistan, no doubt he also considered his own mortality. His courage and bravery in persisting with his chosen career, and in making Afghanistan a safer country, were extraordinary. It is no surprise that he had been much decorated as a result of his extensive operational experience, his leadership talent and his dedication.

Life in Afghanistan for our service men and women is difficult and challenging, as I observed during my recent trip. We heard this morning about winters getting to minus 20. I was there on the edge of summer, which promises to get up to about 50 degrees, and it was about 42 degrees then. It is hot and dusty and it can be pretty uncomfortable, but our service men and women endure these conditions with great tenacity. They get on with it, as Australian soldiers do. And they do so with a sense of humour, as Australians tend to do, as well as a strong sense of commitment, vision and purpose as to why they are there.

Our service men and women are responsive to the local people and their needs. I sat in on many meetings and could not help but be impressed with the sense of dignity that surrounded those meetings. The Afghanis are being helped by Australian service men and women and are grateful for the great sacrifice that is being made. I am sure that they will be grieving the loss of Sergeant Wood as well, as they have come to respect people like him. They have depended upon his skills, expertise, leadership and quiet dignity.

The Afghani people are a proud people who appreciate the support of Australia and of dedicated people like Sergeant Wood. They want a life like other citizens in the world, one in which their families are safe, their economic and financial safety can be developed and they can evolve as a country which is not a haven for terrorists and thugs. Above all, they want emotional security. Sergeant Wood made, and Operation Slipper is making, a difference to the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

I say to Sergeant Wood's family, friends, mates and colleagues that we will never forget him. We will remember the contribution he made to the safety and wellbeing of his colleagues and the people of Afghanistan. We are grateful that he chose the profession of serving his country, a profession he chose at the tender age of 18. We thank the leaders who supported his development into a fine soldier and commando at such a young age and who nurtured his leadership qualities. Above all, we thank him for his dedication to duty.

In our grief we will remember the Afghani people, who have lost the support of Sergeant Wood and, after yesterday, that of Lance Corporal Andrew Jones and Lieutenant Marcus Case. These fine Australians were serving their country courageously. Their dedication to the very difficult task that I observed during my recent tour is extraordinary. The service ethos that I encountered is a hallmark of Australian service men and women. They are strongly committed to bringing stability, security and viability to Afghanistan.

In closing, I say to Elvi, Sergeant Wood's wife: your husband was a well-respected and much loved Australian, we all feel your grief, we acknowledge the huge contribution from your husband and we thank you.

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