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Recognition for Vietnam veterans, 50 years in the making

Soldiers are being recognised 50 years after the Vietnam War."

It has been five decades since the engagement of Long Tan, where 105 Australians and three New Zealanders faced 2,000 opponents during the Vietnam War. Now, soldiers who fought in 1966 will be officially awarded honours.

Let's take a look at what goes on behind the scenes of recognising military efforts.

August 18, 2016 marks the Long Tan battle's 50th anniversary.

What has been decided?

Dan Tehan, Australia's Minister for Defence Personnel, announced in early August 2016 that he will recommend 10 soldiers from D Company 6RAR to be awarded honours for their bravery and gallant actions during the Battle of Long Tan. 

On the 50th anniversary of Australia's most costly battle in the Vietnam War (August 18, 2016), the stories of the company will be remembered. Additionally, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal published that they will recommended the following:

  • Commendation for Gallantry for Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp (deceased), Private Neil Bextrum, Private Ron Brett (deceased), Private Ian Campbell, Private William Roche, Private Geoffrey Peters and Private Noel Grimes.
  • Medals for Gallantry for Lieutenant Adrian F. Roberts, Sergeant Francis Alcorta and Lance Corporal Barry Magnussen (deceased).

To clarify, honours systems vary between the Imperial and Australian versions. The first, which applies to soldiers serving during the Vietnam War, recognises the Victoria Cross as level one, the Distinguished Conduct Medal as level two and Mention in Despatches as level four.

The Australian system, currently in use, categorises the Victoria Cross for Australia as a level-one honour, the Star of Gallantry at level two, the Medal for Gallantry at level three and the Commendation for Gallantry at level four.

The harrowing aid efforts of the D Company were described as exemplary in an article by the Australian Defence Magazine (ADM). Assistance included artillery, ammunition resupply and fire support as well as reinforcements from both Australian and New Zealand forces. The same account reported that Mr Tehan welcomed the honour of recommending the tribunal's decision to the Governor-General. 

Of course, the decision to commend brave soldiers 50 years after they fought in the battle didn't just come out of nowhere; Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, the commanding officer at the Battle of Long Tan, applied to the Tribunal in April 2015. By challenging the five-decade-old decision not to recognise their efforts in service, Lt. Col. Smith aimed to have 13 of his men acknowledged for their involvement and dedication. 

Soldiers will be acknowledged for their efforts in the Vietnam War.Soldiers will be acknowledged for their efforts in the Vietnam War.

What is the process for a review?

The Australian government's website outlines the process of decision making, from start to finish. As such, the application of review meant that the Tribunal had to follow set guidelines, which are explained below.

It all starts with submitting the actual application in accordance with specified forms. The procedural rules outline that the Tribunal - after receiving the submission - can do its own research, which may mean the escalation to another person or organisation deemed appropriate. 

From there, both the Secretary of Defence and a representative from the Defence Force get involved through reports on the initial decision - such as the reports from 50 years ago, in the case of Long Tan. The reports help determine the reason for the original decision and whether evidence is classified or not. The Secretary then has 30 working days to escalate the relevant materials to a qualified tribunal member. 

Once the reports are finished, the applicant can submit a written response to the Tribunal before a hearing, which can be private or public depending on the security level. During the hearing, the Tribunal is in charge of deciding who appears and speaks at what time. 

Final recommendations for honours are made to the Minister in a written statement explaining the reasons for a decision. Finally, when all of these steps are completed, the decision is published on the Tribunal's website.

What is important is that the bravery and valour of the soldiers is recognised

How many reviews have been made in the past?

The Tribunal's website has recorded that 149 reviews have been made in the past, including the Battle of Long Tan.This covers only decisions regarding awards and honours made after World War II - any inquiries about challenging a decision before September 1939 need to go before the government. 

Because of the relatively long process and the gravity of starting a review, it is not something that is taken on lightly or often. 

Despite a lead time of five decades, what is important is that the bravery and valour of the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War has been recognised. With processes in place to analyse and rethink past decisions, there are equal opportunities for acknowledging other members of the Australian Defence Force whose conduct may have been overlooked in the past. 

Interconnect Systems has a comprehensive background in aerospace and defence engineering, being an industry leader for more than 20 years. It provides electrical interconnect products and solutions, including cable and wire harness manufacture. For more information on the best backshells and cable harness solutions, contact Interconnect Systems today on 1800 812 214 FREE.

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