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GG Sir Michael Jeffrey and Army Chief Peter Leahy


Press conference by Governor General Sir Michael Jeffrey and Chief of the Army Peter Leahy

PETER LEAHY: Ladies and gentlemen, we've got a fairly constrained time frame this morning, so the Governor-General will make a statement. I'll make a statement and then there will be an opportunity for a few brief questions.

Your Excellency.

SIR MICHAEL JEFFREY: Thanks very much Peter.

Well ladies and gentlemen, shortly after this press conference, in the company of the Chief of Army and the Commander of Special Operations Command, I'll be officiating at a ceremony to present a Unit Citation of Gallantry to the Fourth Batallion Royal Australian Commando, for their absolutely outstanding service in Afghanistan in 05/06 - in which in 309 days of operations in the field, they were in contact with the enemy on no fewer than 139 occasions. And they did that and performed magnificently.

But before attending that particular ceremony, as Honouree Colonel of the Special Air Service Regiment, and I guess that means the grandfather, I want to express on behalf of the nation my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Sergeant Locke, the SAS Patrol Commander so tragically killed in action in Oruzgan Province recently.

It's a doubly poignant moment for me, because in December last year I presented Sergeant Locke with a very well deserved medal of gallantry for outstanding leadership and bravery under sustained fire in Afghanistan. So it is very, very sad that on his second tour, that he has been so tragically lost to us.

Sergeant Locke, from my observations, was a magnificent soldier. He was brave, he was an absolute professional, but he also had a wonderful sense of humour and was very compassionate and I know that he will be missed, not just by his patrol, but also by the whole regiment.

For his family, of course, it will be a time of deep grief and we know, I think, just how they are feeling. But if I could offer perhaps two lines of comfort. First that Sergeant Locke was doing what he loved doing, that is commanding the best soldiers in the world in operations, in which he did so supremely well. And secondly, many of us would like to thank, and I certainly do, that with 42 other special force soldiers who have lost their lives, he is now in a place of peace and tranquillity and hopefully with an internal dimension.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Sorry sir, could you please tell us his name all the time and his title...

PETER LEAHY: We'll take questions a bit later, thank you.

QUESTION: ...just to clear it up?

SIR MICHAEL JEFFREY: Sergeant Locke.

QUESTION: His full name and title?

SIR MICHAEL JEFFREY: His name?

QUESTION: Yeah.

SIR MICHAEL JEFFREY: Sergeant Matthew Locke, Patrol Commander, Special Air Service Regiment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

PETER LEAHY: The nation today has lost a genuine hero. The army has lost a gallant and respected soldier. Our Special Air Service regiment have lost a comrade and a mate and his family have lost a loving husband and father.

I could express my deepest sympathy to the family of Sergeant Matthew Locke and express our desire to support them as much as we can through these difficult and tragic days.

Sergeant Locke was a great soldier. One of those inspirational leaders, who knew his duty and knew his task and it's a very sad day that the nation has lost a man of this calibre.

Over the next few days we will continue to support the family. We will continue to ensure that Sergeant Locke's body is brought home with dignity and respect and we will also work with the Australian population to pay respect to this gallant soldier.

We will now take your questions.

QUESTION: General Leahy, we believe the operation was ongoing as of last night. Can you give us any up-date as to whether they've captured any of the Taliban people who may have done this?

PETER LEAHY: The operation is ongoing and because of that nature, I'm very restrained in what I can say. We wouldn't want to put any more of our soldiers in harms way. So I'm not going to comment at all about the operation.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the circumstances of his death?

PETER LEAHY: Merely what you were told last night, that he was involved in an operation in the Chora Valley. He was involved in a larger campaign with the Afghan National Army, with the International Security Forces in Afghanistan and they were conducting aggressive operations against the Taliban.

He was shot in the chest, and despite the effort of his mates to revive him, we weren't able to revive him.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about what his mates did to try to revive him?

PETER LEAHY: I don't have the details of it, but I can say that the soldiers of the Special Air Service Regiment are very highly trained in combat medic procedures and that they would have taken every effort and expended all their energy to try and save him. He would have got the best care almost immediately.

QUESTION: And how are they doing now?

PETER LEAHY: I haven't spoken to them, but I think you can well imagine that they've lost a mate, they've lost a leader, they've lost an Australian hero. I'm sure that they're upset, but I'm also sure that they're getting on with the task.

QUESTION: And how's his family going?

PETER LEAHY: Again I haven't spoken to the family. We will work with them. I think we could all imagine the heartbreak that they're feeling and I'm sure all Australians share with me, their thoughts and their prayers for the family. As I've said we'll work to support the family, to make sure that we can help them through this very difficult time.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about Sergeant Locke. We understand that he's been awarded a medal for gallantry in the past?

PETER LEAHY: He was awarded the Medal for Gallantry, for his operations in Afghanistan last year. It's a very prestigious award. As I've said he's one of our genuine hero's in the Australian Army, and the Special Air Service Regiment. He was an outstanding soldier. He joined the army in 1991, went through the normal training, but was identified here in the Holsworthy at 57 RAR that he was a man of exceptional talent. He then went off to the Special Air Service regiment, where he qualified in a vast variety of courses.

His Award for Gallantry was because of his leadership and his actions against the enemy. It was awarded 'Under Fire', where he no doubt saved many of his troops. He's one of those sorts of soldiers that you can depend on. A real Aussie soldier. Someone who was a leader. Someone who was inspirational and someone that young soldiers could look up to.

Just one more question please.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit his family, he's a father didn't you mention?

PETER LEAHY: He's a married man and he has a son. And we're not at liberty at the moment to release any more details about the family.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming.

ENDS

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