US salute as gallant Digger Brett Wood killed
THE US is mourning the death in Afghanistan of an Australian hero who ignored his wounds to dash to the aid of an American unit pinned down by insurgents during a 2006 battle.
Commando Sergeant Brett Wood MG was killed on Monday leading his unit from the front, as always.
A decorated hero in an elite unit, he was on foot during an operation to clear insurgents from an Afghan valley the Taliban used as a base and infiltration route when he was hit by an improvised bomb.
Sergeant Wood was the 24th Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Two other commandos were seriously wounded in the blast. One man’s wounds were described as “life-threatening” and the other’s as serious.
They were evacuated by helicopter to a coalition hospital.
Three other Australian soldiers suffered shrapnel wounds in a separate battle hours earlier. They were expected to be discharged from hospital late yesterday.
Sergeant Wood, 32, from Sydney, leaves his wife, Elvi Wood, who said yesterday she’d lost her best friend. “On behalf of Brett’s immediate family, his friends and myself - I would like the Australian public to know what a brilliant husband, son, brother, friend and soldier Brett Mathew Wood was,” Mrs Wood said in a statement.
US ambassador to Canberra Jeffrey Bleich told The Australian last night Sergeant Wood’s death was a great loss to the US as well as to Australia. “We honour his courageous service,” he said.
“That included valiantly leading his platoon to clear enemy positions that were pinning down an infantry company of the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in July 2006.
“He fought bravely as part of our common mission to eliminate terror from the lives of the Afghan people to restore their home to them and to ensure that our own nations are safe.
“Vale, Sergeant Brett Wood.”
The then corporal Wood was awarded the Medal for Gallantry after leading his unit to help the Americans.
This week, with the start of Afghanistan’s summer fighting season the Australian commandos and Afghan troops were spearheading a push to blunt a Taliban attempt to win back territory they’d lost over the past year in Oruzgan Province. The Taliban are fighting back, holding ground and shooting it out where they believe they have an advantage - or paying a farmer $200, two years pay, to bury an improvised bomb.
It was land Sergeant Wood had spent many hard months fighting over. He was a team leader in July 2006 when an Australian platoon and the US company were sent to clear insurgents from a sanctuary in the Chora Valley.
The US troops came under rocket and small arms fire from several directions that killed one soldier and wounded six others.
The Australian commandos themselves under heavy fire, swept through thick vegetation to get to the Americans. A volley of four rockets landed on them, wounding six men including Corporal Wood, who was hit in a foot.
The Australian commander, who did not know Corporal Wood was wounded, ordered his unit to charge forward. “Under these daunting conditions Corporal Wood commenced this task without hesitation, completing a rapid and aggressive clearance of numerous threat compounds,” the citation for his MG says.
The insurgents repeatedly counter attacked and he inspired his men to beat them off. He then led a sniper team into insurgent territory to kill seven enemy. Only after the fighting was over did he tell his superior he was wounded.
Julia Gillard said every loss in Afghanistan hurt Australia as a nation. “It is difficult, but … there can be no doubt, we are making progress,” the Prime Minister told parliament. “We make that progress because of the sacrifice and dedication, because of people like Sergeant Wood.”
Tony Abbott said Australia had lost another fine soldier and Sergeant Wood’s death was a reminder of the risk defence personnel ran on the nation’s behalf and the high price some paid.