They have served Australia and the United Nations as peacekeepers and on Friday evening they were honoured in Bendigo for their service.
A commemoration event marked Australian Peacekeepers Day and honoured all who had served in United Nations operations, including 16 Australians who had died while serving since 1947.
For the Australian Army’s Jackson Harding it was a chance to outline some of the sacrifices made by peacekeepers and address the belief they were not doing soldiers’ work.
“It’s actually very interesting because the Bendigo RSL has a very large number of Vietnam veterans who were treated to something similar when they came back, that somehow they had not been in a ‘real war’,” Colonal Harding said.
“You do occasionally get a similar sentiment from some people that peacekeeping isn’t fighting and you’re not really doing what a soldier’s meant to do.”
Colonel Harding said that simply was not true.
“Standing between two people who are hellbent on causing mayhem on each other, often when you have very limited resources, is quite a challenging undertaking,” he said.
Your say: It is time to honour peacekeepers
Colonel Harding served in missions including to Timor-Leste and Rwanda, often helping rebuild communities where there was a great deal of animosity.
Negotiating complex diplomacies were part of a peacekeeper’s job.
“You have to be mindful of them but at the same time they can be quite difficult to work your way around. You don’t have to just be a soldier, you sometimes have to be a diplomat and try to not have something kick off,” Colonel Harding said.
“And often you have far less than the full range of options you would have if you were fighting in a combat operation. You don’t have fire support from artillery, heavy armour or air support.
“With a peacekeeping mission you may only have small arms and not much more. You have to protect yourself against combatants who have all of these things and you have to be able to interpose yourself, like those in Kibaho.”
Below: Australian Peacekeepers Day Service in Bendigo
Colonel Harding was referring to a small group of Australian soldiers who, in 1995, were working at the Kibaho refugee camp in Rwanda.
They witnessed the Rwandan army carrying out a revenge attack on Hutu refugees. Even though they could not stop the massacre they continued to work under fire to save as many people as possible.
“Rod Scott, who got the Medal of Gallantry, simply stood between Rwandan soldiers and the wounded and said ‘no, not this one, ‘no, not this one’, ‘no, not this one’,” Colonel Harding said.
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