The Hon. CHARLIE LYNN (Parliamentary Secretary) [10.27 a.m.]:
1. I move that this House notes:
(a) the tragic death on Monday 23 May 2011 at approximately 11.00 pm AEST, of Sergeant Brett Wood, 32, from Victoria,
(b) that Sergeant Wood was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during clearance operations in southern Afghanistan and that two commandos were also wounded during the incident,
(c) that Sergeant Wood was the 24th Australian to die in action in Afghanistan since 2001,
(d) that Sergeant Wood was a highly-decorated soldier and was awarded the Medal for Gallantry in 2006 after leading a commando team in extremely hazardous circumstances in the Chora Valley,
(e) that Sergeant Wood was on his third deployment in Afghanistan and had also served in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Iraq,
(f) that the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said of Sergeant Wood: “Brett’s loss will be deeply felt across Australia’s special forces community as he was an inspirational leader and a popular and highly respected member of his unit”, and
(g) that Sergeant Wood is survived by his wife.
2. That this House extends its condolences and pays tribute to Sergeant Wood and his family.
There is a note appended to messages of condolences circulated among veterans that reads simply, “And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today“.
Today I pay tribute to one of our finest warriors, Sergeant Brett Wood, who paid the supreme sacrifice in the war against terror in Afghanistan, and offer our sincere condolences to his wife, Elvi, his parents, Alison and David, and his brothers and sisters. Sergeant Brett Wood was born in Ferntree Gully, Victoria, in 1978. He joined the Army in 1996, when he was 18 years of age. After his recruit training he was posted to the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. He was later selected for training as a commando and successfully completed the Army’s toughest course to enter the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. The unit was later re-formed into the elite 2nd Commando Regiment at Holsworthy in 1998.
Sergeant Wood’s first operational deployment was to Bougainville in 2000. The following year he deployed to East Timor on Operation Tanager and in 2003 to Iraq on Operation Falconer. In 2006 Sergeant Wood deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper. He was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for leadership in action as a team commander during this tour. Later he received a Special Operations Commander—Australia and Commendation for Service with the Tactical Assault Group—East in 2007, and in 2009 he returned to Afghanistan as a section commander.
Sergeant Wood deployed to Afghanistan, for the third time, in March this year. He was serving with the Special Operations Task Group when he was tragically killed in action as a result of the explosion of an improvised explosive device on Monday 23 May 2011. He was just 32 years of age. It is difficult for me to articulate words to properly describe the heroism of Sergeant Brett Wood, the pride we feel for him as a son, a brother, a husband and a warrior in the finest traditions of our Anzac heritage, or the debt we owe him as a nation. I represented Premier Barry O’Farrell at the 2nd Commando Regiment memorial service for Sergeant Wood at Holsworthy in May 2011. I share with members the eulogy given by his company commander:
‘We gather today as brothers in arms to commemorate the extraordinary life of Sergeant Brett Wood, Medal for Gallantry, after his life tragically drew to a close in Afghanistan on 23 May 2011.
‘Charlie Commando Company Group was conducting an operation in Kashmesh Khan, Kajaki, Helmand Province. The purpose of their mission was to disrupt the insurgents ability to finance, equip and support operations and reduce their influence over the population. They had been in contact with the enemy for over 48 hours and during this period, Sergeant Brett Wood was personally involved in three incidents.
‘In the final instance, Sergeant Brett Wood, seeing the insurgents withdrawing, gathered a team and led them to a compound seeking to isolate it. On moving to the right side of the compound, he stepped on a hidden pressure plate improvised explosive device.
‘If an organisation is defined by the people in it and their actions, then it is with mixed pride and sorrow that I say that Sergeant Brett Wood lived his life by a set of values that all members of the 2nd Commando Regiment should strive to follow.
‘Sergeant Wood was an honourable soldier. His professionalism was infectious and he represented the 2nd Commando Regiment through numerous training and operational deployments. His extensive operational service is in many ways a reflection of Australia’s international security experience over the past decade. He was took part in Operations Belisi, Tanager, Falconer and three tours of Afghanistan on Operation Slipper with the Special Operations Task Group. He has participated in numerous counter-terrorist operations including Operations Deluge and Testament. He was a highly decorated soldier who at every stage, without fail, responded when the nation called. Sergeant Wood was an adaptive soldier. He was a no-frills soldier. When given a job to do, he got on with it with whatever manpower and resources he had available to him. He was meticulous with his planning, ruthless in his execution and pragmatic when reviewing his own performance.
‘Sergeant Wood was a soldier who relentlessly pursued excellence. He was a master of the commando skill set, had strong leadership and uncompromising standards. In 2009, he was awarded a Special Operations Command Australia Commendation for his service as an Emergency Action Commander in the Tactical Assault Group (East) and his development of the Protective Security Detachment capability. He was responsible for its operational validation and subsequently continued to adjust the course to incorporate the lessons learnt from the deployments. Sergeant Wood was a soldier with offensive spirit. He demonstrated a bias for action, the mental fortitude and physical toughness to persevere and overcome. In November 2006 Brett was the first Commando to be awarded the Medal for Gallantry. It was presented by the Governor General, His Excellency Major-General Michael Jeffrey AC MC, for his actions as a Team Commander on Special Operations Task Group rotation three. The synopsis of his citation reads:
“Corporal Wood’s act of gallantry in action on the 17th of July 2006, as a Commando Team Commander during Operation PERTH, was testament to his courage, leadership and sense of duty to his team and the platoon. In extremely hazardous circumstances during clearance operations of the Chora Valley, Corporal Wood, despite being wounded, led numerous assaults to clear a number of Anti Coalition Militia held compounds in order to regain his Platoon’s initiative during the battle.”
His company commander added one more attribute to being a commando that Sergeant Wood personified humility. He said:
‘Despite these accolades, he was a quiet achiever. There was an occasion in 2004-2005 when Sergeant Wood through happenstance was at the scene of an accident involving a vehicle and a cyclist. The stunned onlookers congregating did not take any coherent action. Brett made his way through the onlookers and rendered first aid to the cyclist who, sadly, later passed away.
His actions were without fanfare, but not without notice. A follow-up was made by the New South Wales Ambulance Service, praising the anonymous commando for his compassion, dignity and humility.
Sergeant Wood sought a challenge and earned the Commando Beret, entering a brotherhood and family—a family that includes his wife Elvi, mother Alison, father David, sisters and brothers who have all endured the trials and tribulations of our work. To Brett’s family, I say unequivocally that you have our enduring loyalty and support. We honour his sacrifice through our own determination and resolve to meet any challenge head on. Brett will always be part of the commando family. We will always remember him. Sergeant Brett Wood, Medal for Gallantry, rest in peace, your duty is done.’
A fellow comrade then read a final personal letter to Sergeant Wood on behalf of his soldiers in Tango Platoon:
‘It’s always a privilege to be able to say a few words on behalf of our Platoon, I just wish more than anything it was not for this reason.
‘I remember we spoke once about the tragedy of losing one of our blokes—I never considered for a second that we would ever be farewelling you.
‘Mate, you would have been so proud of our boys on Monday. After you got hit those that could raced to help you and the others.
‘They didn’t think about themselves—they just pushed forward, under fire, through the smoke, the dust and confusion, without a moment’s hesitation. Everyone did their jobs to the very best of their ability—the medics did everything they could to save you; the engineers cleared a path out of there; and the operators laid down a thunderous weight of suppressing fire so we could get the Aero Medical Evacuation birds in. Their only thought was to get you and the others out of there as quick and as safe as possible.
‘They were focussed, they were determined, and they were resolute in the face of the enemy, exactly the way you showed them.
‘They were a credit to you, and I have never been so proud.
‘Since we brought you back we have stood by your side 24 hours a day, watching over you the way you watched over us. It is testament to the respect you earned from everyone you met and there have been volunteers to stand vigil from across the task force as well as our United States partners.
‘It also speaks volumes about the man you were that there are so many tributes flooding in—you were a man of few words Woodrow, but when you opened your mouth to speak, everybody listened.
‘You were a soldier’s soldier—you served Australia for over 15 years, and always with distinction. As one of the boys said, you were and are the standard to be reached. It’s some comfort to us that you died doing exactly what you were born to do—seeking out and closing with the enemy. Only afterwards did I realise that over 48 hours we conducted four fighting patrols and you were on three of them. Your boys will always remember you leading from the front, showing them the way, proving time and again that there was never a more worthy recipient of a Medal for Gallantry.
‘Woodrow, on behalf of Tango Platoon, and all who served with you, we want you to know that we are devastated to lose you.
‘You were the best of us, and we will never be the same. But as it always did your example inspires us to get back up and get back in the fight, just as you would have done. It has been our greatest honour and privilege to have served alongside a true and gallant warrior such as you. We will miss you, we will never forget you, we will be worthy of you and we will honour your name by finishing this trip the way you would want us to do—humble, professional and to the very best of our ability.
‘Now we send you home to Elvi—Rest in Peace mate, your duty is done.’
Sergeant Wood’s wife, Elvi, so young and so beautiful, then knelt before the regimental memorial, placed a flower and gently reached out to brush the inscription of his name. She touched the heart of every warrior in the regiment as she paused before it. Her words at Brett’s funeral in St Andrews Cathedral two days later touched the heart of the nation. She said:
‘I have not only lost my husband, I have lost my best friend. The past six years with him were the happiest of my life and it was the biggest honour ever to become his wife and to be part of his family.
‘You have done your country proud Brett and you will always be remembered.
‘Brett you were my rock. I love you with all my heart. I miss you. My heart aches for you.’
Elvi Wood, and the wives of our commandos, are our silent soldiers. Their service and sacrifice has been immortalised in a poem by Trina Parry-Plater that I would like to share with members:
I am a silent soldier,
I am a Commando’s wife,
I wear no uniform,
I wear no rank,
Yet I live a Commando’s life.
I may not do a ‘selection test’
but my challenges are real,
my strength is tested time and again,
along with character, resilience and zeal.
I may not carry an ‘army’ pack,
but it’s a pack of a different name,
it may hold children, groceries and rigours of life.
—I carry it and block out the pain.
I may not be part of a Company,
and I must often survive alone,
but I hold my dear friends close at heart,
and their support is my backbone.
I may not have a Mess to dine in,
or rations to swap with a mate,
the demands that are put upon me mean
some dinners are ‘zapped’ on a plate.
I may not run an Exercise,
or instruct on the ‘COB’,
but I multi-task with the best of them
—I administer a family.
I may not hold a position,
that can be reduced to an acronym,
but I have many hats to wear
more so, in the absence of ‘him’.
I may never have a ‘Chain of Command’,
to issue a ‘call-out’ in the mid of night,
but alone I will waken many times,
to comfort children or dry tears from a fright.
I may not have a career mapped out,
with guidance from peers above,
my career is bent, broken and compromised,
sacrifices I make for my love.
I may never receive a payment,
for the quiet soldiering that I do,
my work often goes unnoticed,
and is appreciated by just a few.
I may never fight an enemy,
or return injured or scarred from war,
but I mend ‘his’ heart,
I ease his mind, and the wounds I dress are raw.
I may never carry a weapon,
but I will always protect my own,
I won’t drop my shield or lose my ground,
I defend my love, my family and my home.
I may never have the comradeship,
to spin ‘warries’ of the past,
but the bonds with friends—shared fears and tears,
forge friendships that will last.
I may never receive a medal,
or march on ANZAC Day,
but I stand tall in the quiet knowledge,
that I too have a role to play.
I am a silent soldier,
I am a Commando’s wife,
No uniform nor rank – just pride in knowing,
I live a Commando’s life.
Elvi Wood has now lost her Commando, her best mate, her husband, her rock. Although she has more than 700 guardians from the 2nd Commando Regiment to protect her and the sympathy of a grateful nation to comfort her, nothing will help ease the silent pain of her grief for many years. Sergeant Brett Wood has paid the supreme sacrifice in the war against terror. He has joined the immortals. The death of the brave is never in vain.
Sergeant Brett Wood’s death in the war against terror reminds us of our solemn duty to ensure that the deeds and sacrifices of our service men and women—past, present and future—are never forgotten. We have to ensure that their memories are enshrined in our national psyche through our education systems, our multimedia, and our parliaments, because they have died for the freedoms and values we treasure so much as a proud Australian nation. Rest in peace, Sergeant Brett Wood, we will never forget the sacrifice you made in the war against terror.
RIP Sergeant Wood – your duty has been nobly done.