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Friends and Colleagues

by

Chief Petty Officer Stuart OíBrien

Australian Defence Forces

Friday, 4 July 2008
It was about 1700 (5pm) local time in Baghdad Iraq, thought to myself, I need a break from work, so went to say hi to a civilian friend in billeting, Stacey. Chatted for a bit about our day and to see how things were back home, for Stacey Ė the US, for me Ė Australia. Shortly after, headed back to my hooch to sort out my washing and check some e-mails. Then a huge explosion rocked my hooch Ė thinking to myself that one was way too close. After the all clear, I headed back into the office so I could account for all of the Aussie within my command. With that out of the way the rumours started coming in on where the rocket hit. I tried calling Stacey with no joy, her phone rang out. Someone said it was her office that was hit. Late that night I found out that it was a tree that was hit, not a building, but the thing was Stacey was standing by that tree. Loss of life in a war zone is part of war, however, when itís a civilian it makes things so much harder to digest.

ANZAC Day, 25th April, also my birthday. We remembered our fallen at a dawn Service within the International Zone. Following that I escorted our 1 Star General to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital) to visit one of our own that had been injured a few days earlier. My hat goes off to the men and women that work within the CSH, we where welcomed with smiling faces and the support they offered was more than I had expected.

I was visiting my counter part at Camp Victory, when Peter a US Soldier who had become friends with us needed to talk. It seemed urgent and he sounded upset. Peterís partner who happened to be serving in another unit in Iraq was killed. Peter turned to the only people he knew that wouldnít care that his partner was also a guy, he came to the Aussies for support. Not being able to tell your supervisors or seek the support of your Chaplains or other welfare services is tough and add being in a war zone on top, what is a soldier to do. In my experience, we tend to bottle these things up, these feelings of loss, helplessness, the sickening in your stomach Ė and then when you canít hold it in any more, you explode and break down. Our men and women are doing it tough over there, and with Donít Ask, Donít Tell in place, itís adding another road block in their way. Peter was lucky he had made friends with the Australians and that we could provide support. After all we are all over there doing it hard; our friends are our lives, our family.

Last month I was talking to a friend in Germany, John a Marine. He told me that his partner, Doug, was killed in Iraq. He found out though a friend/a confidant. The thing that struck me was, had his friend not told him, when would he have found out? The sad thing to me was that he was not able to return home for his partnerís funeral, to spend time with his extended family to greave the loss of his loved one. The only saving grace was his friend, someone that he trusted and that was there for him.

My second tour in Iraq finished in July 2007, again an experience I will never forget. I was honoured to receive the Meritorious Service Medal from the US Army making me feel very humble indeed especial with the high calibre of people I was working with, people I would happily serve with again and again. New friends I made will be friends for life. I tell my civilian friends here at home, that the friends you make within the military (no matter which country), are friends for life and it doesnít matter if you havenít seen each other for years, when you do catch up, itís like you only parted yesterday.

In March 2008, I was once again honoured by the US to be invited to appear as a panelist at Georgetown University Law Centre to speak at a conference entitled "Sexual Orientation and Military Preparedness Ė An International Perspective". I was one of four, speaking of the changes to Open Service for Gay and Lesbian personnel within our militaries, the other countries included: Canada, the United Kingdom and Israel. My message was simple, it doesnít matter where we are from; we join our Militaries, our Defence Forces to serve our Country Ė to do our part. We donít care if you are gay or lesbian, only that can you do the job.

Please note that the names used in this article are not their real names. This is to protect those still serving.

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