The CO pulled out his mobile phone and logged onto Facebook, “Wow, yes I see the original posting, and by the looks of the photos, they were taken from east of the fire” the CO announced, as he handed the phone to me to look at, with Owens looking over my shoulder. The governor smiled as she watched us looking at the photos, “Sir, I would say that some of these photos were taken by a drone, and yes from the east side of the fire” I announced, as I looked closer at the photos, before handing the phone back.
After seeing the Facebook posting, I had my secretary make some enquiries, and we had the FESA Commissioner come and brief us on what happened yesterday, and he explained that he had briefed the media on it being a prescribed burn, so as not to not draw too much attention onto the Army training facility, so the fire only got a brief mention in last night’s news.
The commissioner also informed me of the award that he had bestowed on the soldier who had lead the whole fire incident, as well as the rescue of some lost army cadets, which occurred at around the same time. Since the Facebook posting however, the news has now gone global, and the news report we saw at noon, before leaving to travel here, stated that one soldier was responsible for the coordination of the rescue of twenty lost school cadets in bushland, just south of a giant bush fire, and organising fighting the fire, which was brought under control in just three short hours” the Governor announced.
“That is all correct Ma’am” the CO responded. “Just before we left Perth, I received a phone call from the Governor General in Canberra, who informed me that Her Majesty had seen the late night new reports in London, and suggested bestowing an award on the young man in question, and that is the reason we are here now. After discussion with the Chief of Army in Canberra, we were going to give you Medal of Gallantry.
However, since receiving the call from the Governor General, under his advisement, we have decided to upgrade the original award to the Star of Gallantry, which is just one award down from the VC, and by order of Her Majesty, award you the Order of Merit, which is just one down from a knighthood. Congratulations Staff Sergeant Benning, these are well earned” the Governor said to me as she pinned the two awards onto me, and I snapped to attention and gave her a salute, before stepping back and stood at ease.
“With that all completed, would you like to stay for afternoon tea Ma’am?” the Lt Colonel said to the Governor, “That would be nice thankyou Lt Colonel, and maybe I can get a more detailed report on what happened yesterday” the Governor replied with a smile. The admin sergeant entered the room at that point, “Already prepared in the meeting room Sir and Ma’am” the sergeant announced, and the CO lead the way out of the conference room and into the meeting room down the hall, which had been turned into a dining area, with china crockery, silverware, and a few platters of cakes and sandwiches.
Over the next half an hour I briefed the Governor on what had happened the day before, and along with the CO, we escorted her to her official car, with flags included, and saluted as they drove off back to Perth. “Well young Mitchell, I bet you didn’t expect that, especially the OM” the CO said to me, “No sir, I didn’t, I thought the awards given yesterday were a bit too much really, it was all a team effort, I just helped coordinate everything that’s all” I responded, “Well sir Cub, you will just have to get accustomed to it” the CO said with a smile as he pointed to his chest, were a number of ribbons were attached.
“I’m sorry sir, I hadn’t noticed them before” I relied as I studied the ribbons a bit more, as I didn’t recognise most of them. “All I recognise is the DSM sir” I said to the CO, who chuckled, “That one you have right, the others are the Australian Active Service Medal, Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal, International Force East Timor Service Medal, Australian Defence Medal, and the Defence Force Service Medal” the CO explained, as he pointed out each ribbon.
“Now that you have some, they go in order of: OM, SG, DSC, AFSM, I will organise the ribbons for your dress uniforms, you can use those initial’s after your name now, especially the OM, since that is a royal designated award” the CO added with a smile. “I think I will give that a miss for a while, as it will take too long to explain” I replied, “Any more thoughts on my recommendation for ADFA?” the Lt Colonel asked me.
“I haven’t had much time to think about it, sir, but I would like to remain where I am for the present time, if that is ok sir” I responded, “Yes that is fine, disappointed by yes that is ok too, at this rate you will be a colonel before you are 21” the CO said to me with a big smile, “ I think I will stick to just Staff Sergeant for now thank you sir, at least until I have a lot years of service under my belt” I replied.
When we returned to the conference room, I put in my ear piece again, which I had slipped into my pocket when the governor appeared, and right way there was a lot of chatter happening. “All silent for the CO” I heard Captain King announce over the sat Comm’s system, and everything went quiet, I glanced over to the CO, who had a big grin on his face and I let out a groan, which made everyone chuckle.
“Lt Colonel Harding here, attention all SAS personnel, we have just received an unannounced Vice Royal visit, to those who don’t know what Vice royal means, it is Her Excellency the WA Governor. The purpose of her visit was due to a posting on Facebook yesterday of the fire, which had now gained world-wide attention. By order of the Chief of Army, Staff Sergeant Cub, Mitchell Benning was awarded the Star of Gallantry.
Furthermore, by order of Her Majesty the Queen, Cub has also received the Order of Merit, that is all” the CO said and chatter resumed over the Sat Comm’s, but it wasn’t about the training exercise, it was more about what the awards were, and no one could work out what these awards meant, until I heard WO Owens speak up. “Owens here, the Star of Gallantry, is one award down from the VC, while the Order of Merit is one award down from a knighthood, that is all” he said and the chatter started up again.
“Thanks, I really need that… not” I said to the Warrant Officer, who just chuckled, eventually everyone was pulled into line and the training exercise continued, and I returned to making notes in the pad, as the afternoon progressed. At 1700 hours the CO spoke into the UHF radio mic, “Attention all personnel, CO speaking, that is the end of training for today, return to base” he announced, as the message echoed in my ear, and I realised that the CO had opened his Sat Comm’s so as to relay the message to the SAS personnel at the same time.
“Permission to be excused till dinner please sir” I said to the CO, “Yes go on” he said with a laugh, and I dashed out of the room, and headed to the bunkhouse, where I grabbed my towel and headed to the showers. Once I had cleaned up, and changed into a fresh work uniform, I headed down the main drive of the facility to escape the ribbing I would be getting from everyone, as soon as they found me.
I made sure to take my Sat Comm’s ear piece with me just in case I was needed urgently, and I broke into a comfortable and steady jog, as I continued southwards, with no destination in particular, and after an hour of jogging, I found myself at a junction, which had a small sign saying Airfield on it, so I turned onto the road and contined on for another till I was at the western end of a small sealed runway.
As I cooled down from the run, I heard a familiar voice through the ear piece, “Mike Owens to Cub, are you on the air”, and I smiled, “Yes Warrant Officer, I hear you” I replied, “The CO was starting to wonder if you have runaway and gone AWOL” Owens said to me, and chuckled, “No, I am still on the property, I just needed to take a long jog that is all” I replied.
“Ok, so where are you, do you need me to pick you up” the Warrant officer asked, “That might be a good idea, or it would be a while till I get back, I am at the west end of the airfield” I responded, “Never mind Warrant Officer, I will go and collect him” I heard the CO say, unaware that he was listening in, “Yes sir, Owens out” I heard him reply. “Walk back to the main road, so you don’t cramp up, see you shortly, CO out” I heard the Lt Colonel say, and I turned around and began to walk back to the main road, where I found the CO waiting for me.
“Sorry sir, I just needed some space to clear my head, all of these past two days has been a real head spin for me” I said as I climbed into the front passenger seat of the 4-wheel drive, “I can understand that, I’m glad you had the scense to take the sat comm’s with you.
Dinner will be over, by the time we get back, I have had the chef keep some aside for you, you can take it to the conference room, if you want somewhere quiet to eat” the CO said to me, “Thankyou sir, that will be good” I responded, and we travelled the rest of the way in silence.
Once I had eaten, and returned my dished to the kitchen, I reluctantly headed back to the bunkhouse, which was virtually empty. “Hey cub, everyone is in the showers, congratulations on your other awards” one of my bunkhouse mates said to me as I entered, “Yea, well done mate” the other soldier said to me, “as I keep saying, it was all a team effort, I just helped coordinate it all, that’s all” I responded.
“So, what is the Governor like?” the first soldier asked me, “She was quite nice and down to earth, really interested in knowing all about what happened yesterday with the fire and the search for the cadets, she caught us by surprised, arriving unannounced” I replied, “So do you have a title now? the second soldier asked, and I chuckled, “No, I don’t have a title, but the CO called me Sir Cub, once they had gone” I said to them, and they laughed at this, “It suits you, Sir Cub” the first soldier announced, as he gave a large bow, and we all laughed.
Within half an hour, the whole SAS regiment knew of my new nickname, and I went to have another shower, to escape all the antics, happening in the bunk houses. By the time I returned from my shower, it was all quiet, which I was a little surprised about. “Warrant Officer Owens came in and told us to shut it, soon after you headed to the showers” one of the soldiers whispered to me, and I nodded my head in understanding, realising that he was getting very protective of me, and I wondered why.
Just at that moment the Warrant Officer walked in, and seeing me he indicated for me to follow, which I did, and we headed NCO’s bunkhouse. “Since there are just three NCO’s we asked the CO if it was ok to let you bunk with us, and he was agreeable to the idea, we can get your gear in the morning, while everyone is at breakfast, and I suggest you start calling me Mike, when no one is around” Mike Owens said to me as we approached the bunkhouse, and I was directed to a bunk with the bed already neatly made up.
Taking my boots off, and storing them away in the side locker, I removed my shirt and hung it up neatly on a coat hanger, and did the same with my trousers, before climbing into my new bed, and I fell asleep nearly right away, waking up only to the sound of reveille in the morning. “Good morning sunshine, did you sleep well” Mike said to me as I jumped out of bed and quickly dressed, “Slept like a bear in hibernation, even thou we don’t have bears in Australia, if you don’t count Koalas, which are not really bears anyway” I replied.
Once morning parade was over, everyone headed to the dining hall, while I remained with Mike to speak to the CO, who indicated that he wanted us to stay and talk. “Thanks for the change of quarters sir, I slept very well sir” I said as everyone was out of hearing range, and Mike chuckled. “Actually sir, he was asleep less than a minute after he lay down on the bed” Mike said.
“I was thinking that we go out in the field today, so I think we should station ourselves at the north end of the airfield, we will use two vehicles as our base, with the VHF and UHF radios, we can use a smaller whiteboard to help with the tracking of the teams during the training exercises” the CO announced, and that is exactly how the day panned out. For the remainder of the week, we were kept busy with different scenarios, to put everyone to the test.
With just one week left of training, I was summoned the CO’s office after morning parade, and I was told to take a seat. “Staff sergeant, since you have declined the offer to go the Australian Defence Force Academy, I have another proposal to put to you” the CO said to me, and I was a little shocked at this announcement, and I waited for him to continue.
“Yesterday, I had an interesting telephone conversation with the Commissioner of FESA – Fire and Emergency Services, and although you have been with the Army fulltime for just a short while, we have come up with an idea that will be beneficial for both FESA and the Army. If you accept, the army will pay for your training at the Fire Academy, which is 8 weeks long.
Once you have completed the training, you will be made a part time soldier, working 4 days a week for the Army, and 2 days a week for the Fire Service, for a period of three years, then you can decide what you want to do after that, whether it be Army, Fire Service, or something else” the CO said to me.
“Well sir, that is a very interesting proposal, I guess you also had a chat with my Aunty Jean, so you knew that I was hoping to join the Fire Service when I am old enough to apply” I responded, and the CO chuckled, “Yes you guessed right about speaking to your aunty, so what are your thoughts” the CO replied with a smile. “If you don’t mind sir, I would like a couple days to think about it” I replied.
Nearly a week later, with a lot more of training completed, as a member of the Royal Engineers Corps, I and my colleagues were preparing to travel east, back to Holsworthy, where the corps is based, and two days before we were due to leave, I went to speak to Lt Colonel Harding. “Sir, I have thought about what you said to me last week, and yes I would like to accept your offer, when do I start” I said to the CO.
“I am pleased that you have accepted, and the next round of fire training begins in mid-March, which I believe is when you turn 18” the CO said to me, “Yes sir, that is correct” I said with a smile. “Good, you will travel back to Holsworthy, where you will spend the next 3 ½ months, working full time with the army, until you get your orders for change of employment status, from full time to part time, and a permanent transfer to the SAS Regiment - Royal Engineers, based at Campbell Barracks” the CO informed me.
“Thank-you sir, that sounds awesome” I responded, “One other thing, I had a request from your old Grammar school, asking if you could give a talk to the cadets, on your experiences with the army” the CO informed me, “I think I could do that, once I am back in Western Australia next year” I replied with a smile.
Copyright July 2017 Preston Wigglesworth All Rights Reserved