Looking after our veteran community is the responsibility of the entire nation, Australia’s first civilian casualty in Afghanistan said in Springwood today [Sunday].
David Savage AM was delivering the address at the Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans and Associated Forces Memorial Day at Springwood Cenotaph.
He said understanding of the plight of our veterans has changed since World War I and World War II, which involved the whole community.
“However from Vietnam on, subsequent conflicts have only really affected those who have been deployed and their family and friends. Perhaps this has been why there has been some detachment or disconnect between the community and veterans, resulting in a lack of support for those who have served,” he said. “We have to change this. The Australian community as a whole needs to take ownership and responsibility for our veteran community. In effect, we need more than our mates to watch our backs. We need everyone to engage and effectively extend that sense of mateship to help cover our vets' backs.”
Mr Savage was in Afghanistan as an aid worker in 2012 when he was the victim of an attack while walking back to his base with a 16-man US security detail.
“We were only about 60 metres from the base when a 12-year-old boy dressed in white robes infiltrated my security detail and when the boy was only three metres from my back, detonated a suicide vest he was wearing underneath his robes,” he said.
“I was blown 10 metres in the air and I had 64 ball bearings enter me. I was wounded everywhere except my right arm.”
Several others in the group were also critically wounded.
“But we survived due to the bravery of the Australian soldiers who were in the base and came out while under fire, risking their own lives, to rescue us,” said Mr Savage.
“Of course, sadly the young child did not survive.”
Mr Savage has had 20 major surgeries since the attack and has experienced post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety.
“Prior to having post-traumatic stress I too was as dismissive as many others are about these issues. I thought people should just harden up and get on with it but, as we all know now, that's just not the case,” he said.
He has since thrown his support behind Soldier On, an organisation that supports people who are wounded in battle.
Launched in 2012, Solider On has opened centres in Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney, delivering vital support services to veterans and their family members. It also focuses on helping veterans and their families successfully transition from the Defence Force into the community.
The memorial day parade made its way up Macquarie Road at 11.30am before the service at noon.
Federal Defence Minister, Senator Marise Payne, and Macquarie MP Susan Templeman, Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle, Penrith MP Stuart Ayres and Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill were among the special guests to attend.