Veterans say they have uncovered evidence of “systematic abuse” of Australia’s honors and awards system, which allowed senior commanders, including current defense chief General Angus Campbell, to receive wrongly awarded “distinguished service” medals for decades.
- There have been attempts to remove war decorations in Afghanistan due to alleged atrocities
- This angered former soldiers, who spent months researching whether awards given to their senior commanders were given appropriately.
- This research raises questions about the integrity of awards and honors
Former soldiers, angered by attempts to strip war decorations in Afghanistan over alleged atrocities, have spent months researching whether the awards given to their senior commanders were appropriate.
By accessing previously unpublished documents and correspondence, the group claims to have discovered that the Department of Defense knew as early as 1996 that Distinguished Service Crosses (DSCs) were being awarded illegally to high-ranking officers who were not serving “in action “.
The group is particularly concerned about the awarding of DSCs and other awards to commanders of Joint Task Force 663 (CJTF), the Dubai-based headquarters for Australian operations in the Middle East during the war in Afghanistan.
Former special forces soldier “Marty”, who cannot release his full name for current professional reasons, says the research he helped to produce raises very serious questions about the integrity of the awards.
“It really needs to be addressed,” he said.
“We’re not saying they’re not entitled to something, but for God’s sake, adjust the criteria, don’t just hand them out willy-nilly and above all don’t just hand them out like a gong presence.”
In a letter sent this year to Defense Minister Richard Marles, the group asked him to order the Defense Honors and Awards Appeals Tribunal (DHAAT) to conduct an investigation into the awarding of the Cross of distinguished service and other awards.
“The role of the CJTF was to provide effective command and leadership to Australian Defense Force personnel deployed to Afghanistan,” the letter written in May said.
“It is important to ensure that commanders who have held these leadership positions have and continue to meet the highest standards.
“Given that the DSC is a prestigious military award reserved for individuals who have demonstrated distinguished command and leadership, it is essential that the process used to determine the awarding of these awards is clear and impeccable.
“The DSC was only to be awarded for ‘distinguished command and leadership in action’ (and later, ‘in war operations’).”
Defense chief rewarded
Defense Chief General Angus Campbell was awarded a DSC in 2012 for “distinguished command and leadership in action” as commander of Joint Task Force 633.
Earlier this year, it was reported that General Campbell had unsuccessfully attempted to return his DSC, and during a tense parliamentary hearing in May, a senator asked the chief to “renounce” the honor.
Concerns about the awarding of distinguished service medals appear to be widespread across all military ranks, with serving and ex-military personnel telling the ABC that many honors appeared to be “awarded purely for participation”.
“A broader investigation by DHAAT into the structure, criteria and process of awarding honors and awards is warranted, including why the DSC criteria were changed in 2011,” said Neil James, executive director of the DHAAT. Australia Defense Association.
“Particularly because there are many other ways to honor individual service outside of combat,” he told ABC.
“Another issue that merits consideration is the awarding of a unit citation to a temporary formation (the Special Operations Task Group) rather than to the permanent subunits that rotated there.
“Distinguishing between them would have allowed any revocation of a citation to be focused, transparent and much less likely to be misrepresented.”
Asked about the matter during a visit to Japan, the defense minister told ABC he was unable to comment.
“These are matters that, for various reasons, I am unable to comment publicly on. We are working on a number of issues related to decorations and awards,” Mr Marles said.
General Campbell and the Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.