Thursday, 8 September 2022
Vietnam Veterans' Day, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
We mark Vietnam Veterans' Day on 18 August, a solemn occasion on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan that honours the service and sacrifice of the many thousands of Australians who fought in Vietnam. One of them was my father, who served with the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. I was proud to observe the occasion by attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the RSL Wanneroo, near my electoral office in Perth's northern suburbs.
This year's commemorations also coincided with the 60th anniversary of the deployment of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. This was the first Australian contingent to set foot in South Vietnam and the last to leave. Today I wish to share some of their history and honour the service of this most highly decorated Australian unit, one of the most highly decorated units to serve in any conflict.
The unit first arrived on 3 August 1962, originally numbering 30 men, made up of a mixture of officers, sergeants and warrant officers under the command of Colonel FP 'Ted' Serong. It was informally known as 'the team', and 1,009 men served with the unit over its decade of operation, 998 of them Australians and 11 New Zealanders. The team provided training and leadership to South Vietnam forces, giving instruction in jungle warfare techniques and technical areas such as signals and engineering.
For its first two years the team's personnel were deployed on operations as observers only, providing advisory support in the field without the authorisation to engage with the enemy. This was, unsurprisingly, impractical, as they were often caught in ambushes without the right to defend themselves. In 1964, these restrictions were lifted, thrusting the team into some of the fiercest fighting of the war. The first member to be killed in action was Warrant Officer Class II Kevin Conway at the Battle of Nam Dong on 6 July 1964. Thirty-three men in the unit were eventually to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and another 122 were wounded.
For many in the team, service in Vietnam was an isolating experience. They often worked alone or in pairs in small advisory teams which served with Vietnamese units. Their dispersal meant Australia had a countrywide presence and, with it, the ability to assess the situation well beyond the borders of provinces in which most Australians served. The difficulty of their task formed part of their identity, with the unit motto being, 'Persevere.' In the foreword to the book The Men who Persevered, an account of the team's role in Vietnam, team veteran Major General John Hartley provided this description of their experience and their service:
A unique quality of the Team was its varied and frequently changing function. Certainly there was a training element, but members also led units, advised all manner of Vietnamese officers and officials, served on headquarters and determined policy. They were closely involved with regular and irregular forces, with Special Forces, Montagnards and Cambodians, with combat, combat support and service support units. At one time or another, they were deployed—individually or in small teams—to almost every province of South Viet Nam. Despite their small numbers, they remain the Australian face in the memories of many Americans and Vietnamese—
who also served in that conflict.
When Australian and American forces began to withdraw from Vietnam, the team's operations reverted to their original task of training, providing South Vietnamese forces with vital preparation. The last members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam withdrew on 8 December 1972—the last Australians to leave the conflict.
It's appropriate to end this contribution by noting and recognising that four Victoria Crosses were awarded to the team's members, with numerous other awards and decorations conferred, including those conferred by the United States and the Republic of Vietnam. Tonight I acknowledge with great pride the service of all Australians who served in the Vietnam conflict. Your service is remembered, and today it's honoured.
Senate adjourned at 17:58