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Tony Park | 55 | Australian Army and Army Reserve

Tony Park | 55 | Australian Army and Army Reserve

Served 34 years in the Army Reserve, including 6 months in Afghanistan in 2002.

Major, as a public affairs officer (Army Reserve) | Air Dispatcher and Infantryman (Army)

Postings: Afghanistan

Primary job: Army Public affairs officer, while serving in Afghanistan

Medals and citations: I was attached to the Special Operation Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan in 2002 and after our tour the Special Air Service Regiment received the Meritorious Unit Citation for its wartime service. Although I was not a member of the SAS I was attached to the unit and so I get to wear the Meritorious Unit Citation. It’s a reminder for me of the good friends and highly trained professionals I had the privilege of serving alongside.

“Top of mind for anyone who serves is, I believe, the wish to do the right thing by one’s friends, the man or woman by their side, in the full knowledge that they would give their all for you if the situation were reversed. In these tough times the advice any soldier, sailor or airman would give would be: look after each other, and together we will get through this.”

Best advice/skill received: To be the ‘grey man’. It’s a military term for someone who fits in, does not try to outshine everyone else or show off, and nor does he draw attention by failing. It is possible to strive to be the best you can be, without seeking, or doing so, solely for reward or glory. It’s good advice.

What do you want people to remember about your service? We are lucky in Australia that, comparatively, such a small percentage of the population has had to serve in a war. I would simply like people to remember that we, the veterans are out there. Your neighbour or the person on the bus next to you may be a military veteran. There are men and women who have risked everything to protect our way of life. Please don’t forget us.

What was the best and worst 'military' food you were served, and why? The best food I ate in Afghanistan was chocolate chip brownies, baked by my wife and posted to me, free of charge, courtesy of Australia Post. The worst was American Army food, which, at the time, was cooked to mush in Germany, frozen, flown to Afghanistan and reheated. It was inedible. I lived on Weetbix and cook-in-the-pot noodles from Australia and peanut butter and crackers from American ration packs. I lost 20kg in six months.

What effect did your military experience have on your life? On one hand my time in Afghanistan was the highlight of my military career, but I was terribly unsettled when I returned home. Nothing else I did in the army matched it and I became very disillusioned with successive Governments’ handling of the media coverage of the war in Afghanistan and eventually left. I know several soldiers who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from things they witnessed.

Nothing bad happened to me, or anyone I served with in Afghanistan, but, ironically, that had an impact on me as well. As more people were injured and killed in successive tours of Afghanistan, after mine, I developed survivor guilt, thinking I had not done enough. With professional help I later came to value my service and what I did, but it was not easy for many years. As an author my military service, good and bad, has definitely shaped my novels.

Funny recollection during time of service:

Half a dozen of my soldiers and I decided to stage a (tasteful) ‘naked workers’ photo in the back of a RAAF Hercules transport parked on the tarmac at Devonport airport, Tasmania, during an exercise. We snuck aboard, got the photo, and as soon as we had finished and were about to get dressed we were confronted by the pilot, the airport manager and the manager’s wife boarding the aircraft via the front stairs, for a tour!

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