Searching tunnel systems in Afghanistan as part of the Incident Response Regiment, Corporal Javier Studenko had no idea that he would end up having to explain to his mother what happened.
“There was just a perfect footprint there and that sort of alerted me to the fact there was someone there,” the former Special Forces soldier says.
“That’s when I shone my torch … down towards a small opening and called back to the blokes to let them know … and it was at that stage that I just started getting engaged, probably from about two, no more than three metres away.
“It was underground, and at that stage pretty dark and very loud, so it was a flurry of red flashes coming out what was just a pitch black hole and rounds passing by my head, passing by my body.
“How they were not hitting me I don’t know, and I was just getting covered in rock, and shrapnel and stuff like that from the rounds that were hitting the walls, and a few pieces … were embedded in my chest and a large piece was embedded in my leg.”
Studenko shares his story as part of a series of compelling interviews with Special Forces soldiers and their families produced by award-winning journalists Max Uechtritz and Chris Masters. The interviews were produced for From the shadows: Australia’s Special Forces, a new exhibition at the Australian War Memorial that explores the history, capabilities, and ongoing work of Australia’s Special Forces from the Second World War to Afghanistan.
Featuring nearly 700 objects, many on public display for the first time, and compelling footage from in the field, the exhibition includes stories from the Special Air Service Regiment, the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments, and Corporal Studenko’s recollections of being wounded while serving with the Incident Response Regiment (later renamed the Special Operations Engineer Regiment).
“I remember even lying there on the stretcher and Bravo was passing information back … and I wanted to self-notify my family,” Studenko says.
“I didn’t want them to tell them I’d been injured because I know how my mum is and it wouldn’t go down well. So when I called her, I basically didn’t fill her in on much, or give her much information – basically, you know, ‘I’m in hospital, I’ve just got a little bit of metal in my leg, but it’s all fine.’”