SAS Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith says he is extremely humbled to receive the Victoria Cross for gallantry but he has urged Australians to always remember the digger heroes who have died fighting in Afghanistan.
The 32-year-old was awarded Australia’s highest military honour by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at a special ceremony in Perth on Sunday.
Also present at the Campbell Barracks for the ceremony were Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Defence Force Chief Angus Houston.
Cpl Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia for conspicuous gallantry shown when taking on Taliban machine gun positions near the village of Tizak in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province on June 11 last year.
After the ceremony, the father of two-month-old twin girls, told reporters he was “extremely humbled” by the award but every member of his unit showed gallantry on the day and they too would be recognised with honours.
He also urged Australians to remember the digger “heroes” who did not come back alive from Afghanistan.
“These are the guys who put their hands up willingly and they didn’t come back.
“They are our mates and their families live with that every day,” Cpl Roberts-Smith said.
“So I will really urge the public to remember they are the heroes, they are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Cpl Roberts-Smith said that in the middle of intense fighting there wasn’t time to think and a soldier’s training kicked in.
“I just looked across and saw my mates getting ripped up.
“I just decided to move forward because I wasn’t going to sit there and do nothing. I thought I’d have a crack, not to let my mates down.”
He then single handedly assaulted two Taliban machine gun positions and took them out.
“We won and we hurt the insurgency. I’m very proud to be part of that,” Cpl Roberts-Smith said.
“I think for everyone there, including myself what’s going through your mind is you just won’t let your mates down.
“You just go as hard as you can.”
He said he could not do his job if he did not have the support of his wife and the rest of his family “and they do support me 100 per cent”.
“I do what I do because I believe in the country that we live in.
“I believe we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia,” Cpl Roberts-Smith said.
“I want my children to be able to live as everyone does now without the fear of getting on a bus and having it blow up.”
Cpl Roberts-Smith said he was ready to serve on the front line again if deployed.
Praise from PM
Australia’s newest Victoria Cross recipient is a humble family man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says.
Ms Gillard spent some time with the family last week and saw that the war hero was a dedicated husband and father.
“Ben is actually a very humble man, reluctant to be the centre of so much fuss and attention,” she said.
“(He is) keen to also remind of the bravery of the mates that he fought alongside and also a man determined to keep his family in his protective and loving embrace.”
Ms Gillard said Cpl Roberts-Smith was one of the greatest living Australians.
“Exhibiting those characteristics: humility, mateship, love of family, Ben is clearly one of us,” she said.
“But Ben is also different from us … because he will always know as we know now that in the heat of battle he did not fail when mateship and duty called.
“And though it might have easily cost him his life he was fully prepared to give it.”