FELIX and Yvonne Sher, parents of the late Private Gregory Sher, killed by a Taliban rocket in Afghanistan, expressed their relief this week on hearing that the proposed withdrawal of Meritorious Unit Citations from all Special Forces serving there, in response to the war crimes report, will not go ahead.
The family had been stunned to learn their son would lose his citation, after a pledge by Australian Defence Force (ADF) Chief General Angus Campbell to pull citations from some 3000 Australian Special Forces serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013. He had foreshadowed the move on recommendations from NSW Supreme Court Justice Paul Brereton’s four-year inquiry.
The probe publicised its findings that 25 ADF personnel were involved in serious crimes resulting in the alleged murders of 39 Afghans and cruel treatment of two others, and recommended the cases be referred to the Australian Federal Police.
Felix Sher emphasised the 1st Commando Regiment in which his son served until his death in 2009 was not linked to the allegations. “It’s not only terrible for us,” he told The AJN on Monday, before the plan to remove the citations was withdrawn. “What about those who have become disabled as a consequence of their service, paraplegics, quadriplegics – and they’re having it taken from them as well?
“It’s been presented rather thoughtlessly,” added Sher, who earlier told The Australian that if General Campbell wanted his son’s citation back, he could “collect it himself from my son’s gravestone”.
After a strong backlash from veterans and their families, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated on Monday he did not support the collective stripping of citations, and hours later Campbell backed down, stating that “a comprehensive implementation plan” of the Brereton report’s recommendations is underway.
On hearing the news that the citations would not be stripped, Sher said he was elated that alternative methods of dealing with alleged perpetrators would be looked at. “I’m very pleased that sanity has prevailed.”
Sher, who keeps his son’s medal in a framed display, had written to Campbell twice with Ray Palmer, whose son Private Scott Travis Palmer was also killed in Afghanistan. Calling for a reversal, their email asked why 99.3 per cent of Special Forces in Afghanistan were being punished for the alleged actions of 0.7 per cent. Their plea was rejected, and a second letter proposing withdrawing citations unit by unit went unanswered.
Before the reversal, Rabbi Ralph Genende, senior rabbi to the ADF, told The AJN, “We’re all struggling to come to terms with the allegations of shocking war crimes in Afghanistan. There would, however, be a great sadness if all of our singular Special Forces were to be stripped of their citations because of the presumed egregious sins of the very few. In our community, we think especially of Greg Sher and his brave sacrifice.”