Australian war widows speak out after ADF plan to strip bravery medals
Australian war widows speak out after ADF plan to strip bravery medals

War widow’s plea to keep SAS bravery medal

When war widow Jo Turner's teenage daughter heard the Australian Defence Force was considering stripping bravery awards from entire Special Forces Units who served in Afghanistan, she asked her mummy, "Does that mean I won't get daddy's medal on my birthday?"

Ella is counting down the days until she turns 16 in January, when she can proudly receive her father corporal Ian Turner's posthumous citation embodying the 17 years of deployments and combat experiences that was his honourable military life until he committed suicide three years ago.

 

Corporal Ian Turner.
Corporal Ian Turner.

"For her it's the pride she has for her father and his army friends and their service, the children have a massive respect for the military, the sacrifice he made - to take away his citation is an extremely hurtful thing to do to a family, it's our history, it's disrespectful to their service," his widow told the Daily Telegraph.

"His service has not been easy on our family, the children grew up with an absent father when he was sent away on deployment.

"We've lost a lot because of that service. I would love to have my husband and father of our children still with me today, I'm proud of what he did for the country, I don't want to feel ashamed or humiliated.

"To punish the many is poor, old-fashioned leadership of shame and humiliate."

Ms Turner from the Sutherland Shire has added her voice to the widows' support for the Daily Telegraph's campaign, Save Their Medals, amid a clamouring call for veterans, dead or alive, to retain the citation unless convicted of a war crime.

Corporal Turner, who served in 2 Commando Regiment, took his life in the grip of PTSD, three years after his last tour of Afghanistan in 2013.

"A lot of widows and families feel deeply hurt by this," she added.

"Our husbands and sons did nothing wrong, they sacrificed their lives and deserve those medals," she added.

Sydney widow Gwen Cherne, 42, wants to ensure her husband Sergeant Peter Cafe's death is not in vain.

He served with the 2nd Commando Regiment in Afghanistan and Iraq with distinction.

He also took his life following a battle with depression and anxiety following a stroke during his service in Iraq when he was repatriated to Australia.

The former New Yorker met her future husband in 2008 while in Afghanistan as an aid worker. Sergeant Cafe was working as a security contractor after serving in East Timor and Cambodia with the Australian Army.

They relocated back to Australia to be closer to Sergeant Cafe's son Tom. They married and had two children, Emily, 8 - who was born while Sergeant Cafe was on deployment to Afghanistan - and Lachlan, 5.

 

Gwen Cherne with the medals and meritorious citation of her partner Peter Cafe (pictured) who served in Afghanistan. Picture: Richard Dobson.
Gwen Cherne with the medals and meritorious citation of her partner Peter Cafe (pictured) who served in Afghanistan. Picture: Richard Dobson.

A decorated member of Australia's Second Commando Regiment, Sergeant Cafe re-enlisted in the army, serving in Iraq where he suffered a stroke in 2016.

He took enormous pride in his service to his country, and he earned his medals and citations through his commitment to service.

"I understand and respect the reasoning behind this recommendation but losing this citation would be painful for the families of the fallen, and it would be extraordinarily painful to all those who served with distinction and honour in Afghanistan, including veterans who returned home with physical and mental injuries that they will carry forever," the first Veteran Family Advocate said.

"Nothing will change my memories of Pete or his legacy to his nation, but taking away medals or citations can feel like we are taking away a part of their legacy from their loved ones, including our children.

Memorabilia and medals belonging to Pete Cafe who served in Afghanistan and was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for his services. Picture: Richard Dobson
Memorabilia and medals belonging to Pete Cafe who served in Afghanistan and was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for his services. Picture: Richard Dobson

"Our military personnel - my late husband and my son, who is serving today, - and their families take great pride in their service and to have it questioned or diminished can have a very real impact on their mental health."

Defence officials overwhelmed by the public anger at their decision to strip unit citations from special forces who served in Afghanistan have backed down, opening the door for a reversal.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia's Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Angus Campbell had not made a concrete decision on revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation granted to Special Operations Task Group members for their outstanding service.

When the Brereton Report was released three weeks ago, General Campbell said he had "accepted" the Inspector-General's recommendation and would write to the Governor-General requesting he withdraw the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to SOTG rotations serving in Afghanistan for the seven years between 2007 and 2013.

 

About 3000 soldiers received the citation, after the release of a report detailing disturbing ­alleged war crimes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken a step back from the recommendation, insisting it would be a lengthy process and decisions have yet to be made.

The widow of former Townsville 2nd Commando Regiment private Duncan Garland is pleading with defence officials to let him keep his medal after he took his life following three tours of Afghanistan, in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

"I met him after his last deployment and had to deal with the aftermath, but I loved him, it was worth it." Kelly Garland, 30, said.

"Don't take away his Meritorious Unit Citation, Duncan gave everything to the army and in the end he gave his life- that honour symbolises the sacrifices and the hurt he battled with PTSD afterwards.

"I'm still seeing a psychologist to come to terms with the fact he is no longer here, we bought a dog and were planning a family, and his parents are mourning a son.

"Duncan would have been angry and disheartened today if he heard they wanted to take away his medal."

 

 

 

 

Originally published as War widow's plea to keep SAS bravery medal

Corporal Ian Turner.
Corporal Ian Turner.
Ian and Jo Turner with their children.
Ian and Jo Turner with their children.

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