From the Shadows: Australia's Special Forces exhibition launch
Honourable member, distinguished guests, veterans, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a privilege to be here today, in this building that holds such special significance to all Australians. The War Memorial recognises and celebrates the extraordinary contributions made by so many committed Australians. Under the guidance and leadership of its director, Dr Brendan Nelson, this institution has brought to life with dignity and respect, the human stories from our history. Through the context of war we celebrate the commitment, dedication to duty and sacrifices that so many fine Australians have made.
Special Operations Command has traditionally remained tight lipped about our activities. We prefer to remain in the shadows – not seeking public recognition for what we do. This is embodied in the persona of ‘the quiet professional’ and has been a consistent character trait from the very first members of Z and M Special Units and the Independent Commando Companies – who remained quiet about their activities until 1995 – 50 years after they had completed their secretive missions.
This culture of secrecy is founded in a very real need for operational security. Special Operations by their nature are highly vulnerable activities, often conducted in conditions that do not provide for reinforcement – the risks to its members are very real. They are often conducted by a small group of individuals, isolated from any other friendly forces, totally reliant on their own skill and guile to survive. However, the down side to this secrecy is the difficulty we face in sharing with the Australian community the outstanding work of our people.
Thanks to Dr Karl James, Danielle Cassar and the team at the War Memorial, we now have a fitting recognition for all of our Special Operations veterans. From the daring raids of our first Commandos during World War 2, through to our most recent experiences on the 23 rotations conducted in Afghanistan by the Special Operations Task Group, this exhibition documents the history of Australian Special Forces.
During this 65 plus years of history, Australian Special Forces, have continued to develop and adapt to meet the requirements of the time. From the conduct of isolated surveillance operations in the Pacific theatre – to clandestine patrols in Borneo and Vietnam – to raising the Counter Terrorist capability – and through to our longest operational commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Special Forces have always been in the forefront, its people voluntarily placing themselves in harm’s way.
This exhibition is an entrée to the extraordinary things our people have done and the dangers that they faced. What I especially like about this exhibition, is how it captures the sacrifices made by the families of our members. These families have stood firmly by the sides of our members as they have continuously deployed every 12 to 18 months for more than a decade. This love and support can never be understated and it is important to recognize the great stress it places on these families as they have, and continue to, provide support to their partners and parents – in some of the most difficult circumstances.
As the Special Operations Commander, I am immensely proud of this exhibition and the recognition it provides for our Special Operations veterans and their families. These dedicated individuals have served our country with great courage and devotion. This exhibition is a fitting and wonderful tribute to their sacrifices. I thank everybody involved in putting this together – including the staff at the Australian War Memorial under the fine leadership of Dr Brenden Nelson – and our veterans from Special Operations Command, who have contributed their stories and memorabilia. I am very pleased that this exhibition – has given a voice to our silent professionals.