Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Covert vs. public

I read a story this morning about Corporal Willie Apiata, New Zealand SAS (ht:JD), who has just been approved for the Victoria Cross for New Zealand for absolutely astounding actions under fire in Afghanistan. While I will excerpt it, you should really read the whole citation:

Lance Corporal Apiata concluded that his comrade urgently required medical attention, or he would likely die. Pinned down by the enemy, in the direct line of fire between friend and foe, he also judged that there was almost no chance of such help reaching their position. As the enemy pressed its attack towards Lance Corporal Apiata’s position, and without thought of abandoning his colleague to save himself, he took a decision in the highest order of personal courage under fire. Knowing the risks involved in moving to open ground, Lance Corporal Apiata decided to carry Corporal A single-handedly to the relative safety of the main Troop position, which afforded better cover and where medical treatment could be given. He ordered his other colleague, Trooper T to make his own way back to the rear.

In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack. By his actions, he removed the tactical complications of Corporal A's predicament from considerations of rescue.

BZ to the since-promoted Corporal Apiata (photo here). I doubt he will be able to buy himself a beer at any mess anywhere in the Anglosphere for quite some time, which is as it should be.

This story, though, makes me wonder what sort of a future the man has in New Zealand's special forces. I noted in the press release that a Captain and two other Corporals from the NZSAS were decorated for gallantry with skeletal citations and no names provided. I suspect that in the case of Corporal Apiata, the chance to make a big public relations deal out of the VC award outweighed PERSEC concerns, and so he's become a poster-boy.

I also wonder how the CF would handle such a dilemma: a JTF-2 soldier receiving a VC. I spoke last week with an officer at CANSOFCOM about the valour and meritorious service decorations awarded anonymously to their personnel in recent days, and wished aloud that more of the good news about our own special forces could come to light. He agreed with me, but said that operational concerns took precedence. I acknowledged that imperative, but expressed my concern that in concealing the good work our SOF troops do, the unit may well be protecting its operational effectiveness, but crippling the strategic campaign for domestic hearts and minds.

What good is it to win the battles with secrecy and technical brilliance, if you lose the war because of an ill-informed public?

Both the CANSOFCOM officer and I agreed that it was a difficult knot to untangle. I guess we'll simply cross that bridge when we come to it.


Blogger Mark Dowling said...

On ARRSE I think it was mentioned that Cpl Apiata had left NZSAS and therefore he could be gazetted by name whereas his comrades nominated for other awards were listed by rank and initial.

10:15 a.m., July 09, 2007  

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