Commando explains why one group is the ‘most marginalised minority’ in Australian society: ‘Men who know what real courage is’
- Heston Russell is a Special Forces veteran
- He was deployed four times to Afghanistan
- Mr Russell says Special Forces are vilified
A former commando who served four tours of Afghanistan says Special Forces veterans are ‘the most marginalised minority’ in Australia.
Heston Russell spent 16 years in the army and retired with the rank of major, having been deployed to East Timor and Iraq as well as fighting the Taliban.
In recent years he has campaigned for the welfare of his returned comrades in arms, founding Voice of a Veteran in 2020 and Veteran Support Force in 2021.
On Tuesday, Mr Russell took aim at what he described as ‘the most shameful and disgraceful treatment of our modern day heroes’ in a social media post.
‘The most marginalised minority in our Australian society today is made up of arguably those willing to do the most of our country,’ he wrote.
Former commando Heston Russell says Special Forces veterans are ‘the most marginalised minority’ in Australia. Mr Russell spent 16 years in the army and retired with the rank of major, having been deployed four times to Afghanistan as well as Iraq and East Timor
‘Identifying as a Special Forces Veteran in Australia today unfortunately brings with it labels you might not expect including “war criminal” and “murderer”.
‘These are men who know what real courage is. They’ve committed their lives, livelihoods and families to serve on the very front line for our country – they’ve been the tip of the spear for Australia’s armed forces.’
A 2020 report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s (IGADF) found evidence of 39 unlawful killings of civilians and prisoners by, or at the behest of, Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan.
The report, authored by NSW Supreme Court judge Paul Brereton, found evidence 25 Australian personnel were involved in the killings, most of which allegedly occurred in 2012 and 2013.
In the wake of that report ADF chief General Angus Campbell moved to strip unit citations from some 3,000 Special Forces troops who had served in Afghanistan.
In November last year the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported at least 1,600 serving and ex-serving ADF members died by suicide between 1997 and 2020.
Mr Russell took aim at ‘the most shameful and disgraceful treatment of our modern day heroes’ in an Instagram post. Australian Special Forces soldiers are pictured in Afghanistan in 2013
The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has received more than 3,000 submissions and heard from almost 250 witnesses in public hearings.
More than 26,000 Australians served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded, 41 soldiers killed and 261 wounded.
Mr Russell, who served with the 2nd Commando Regiment, wrote in his post that Special Forces veterans should be ‘honoured and respected’ for their service to Australia instead of facing vilification.
‘At their very best, these men are role models, who can inspire the young men and women who will be the future leaders of our great nation,’ he wrote.
‘Instead these men are readily torn down and told that their physical courage, combat excellence and patriotic beliefs are no longer values that are important or even acceptable to some in society today.
‘Identifying as a Special Forces Veteran in Australia today unfortunately brings with it labels you might not expect including “war criminal” and “murderer”,’ Mr Russell wrote
‘The reality is that our offensive military might is only deployed when the politicians and bureaucrats can no longer get the job done, when diplomacy fails, or when words and documents n longer deter those who would intend harm to our nation.’
In February, the Federal Court ruled the ABC had defamed Mr Russell in a series of articles and broadcasts which linked him to alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan in 2012.
The stories conveyed Mr Russell was ‘the subject of an active criminal investigation into his conduct as a commando in Afghanistan’ and ‘reasonably suspected… of committing a crime or crimes when he was a commando in Afghanistan.’
Justice Michael Lee also found the ABC stories implied Mr Russell habitually and knowingly crossed the line of ethical conduct and behaved so immorally that United States forces refused to work with him.
Justice Lee has since struck out the national broadcaster’s truth defence in the case, which returns to court on April 24.
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