The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Men that make real sacrifices...

This morning you rose out of a warm and cozy bed, and made your way to work. You generally follow the same routine every day. Seven hours sleep, a desk job, commute back home, decent dinner, TV, maybe some reading, and then sleep again. The biggest risk you face is crossing the road.

Right now you are almost certainly ensconced in an ergonomic chair in an office or at home in one of Australia’s capital cities. You earn a solid salary and can provide for yourself and your immediate family, if you have one. You rarely move outside of this sphere of activity save for holidays and work travel.

If you have any genuine anxieties in your life, they probably relate to how you are going to advance your career, maximise your financial welfare, and possibly a few non-professional concerns, such as your health, global warming, politics, and/or fairness and equity in our society. And that’s assuming you are one of the good ones.

Now cast your mind for just a few moments to a difficult-to-fathom parallel reality. Here I am thinking of a very select group of more than 100 young Australians currently living in a desolate country over 7,000 miles away. Most of these unusually fit and motivated men are aged in their late 20s to early 40s. For some reason they nevertheless look much older—especially the younger ones. Their faces are heavily weathered from years of exposure to the external elements. The twenty-somethings could easily pass for their late thirties. Just as conspicuously, when you meet their eyes you immediately sense a heavy intensity and focus. Those eyes seem to be carrying the weight of the world. And for good reason.

As you rest sedentarily in your chair reading this, it is likely around 3am over there. Yet a group of these men are hiking through exceedingly steep and difficult-to-navigate terrain at elevations more than two to three times higher than Mt Kosciuszko.

The job these men have accepted forces them to remain awake for days at a time, and suffer from a type of mortal stress that you and I have never experienced, to say nothing of the frost-bite, injury and sickness. And they are paid less than a stockbroker.

Setting aside the physical challenges, there is something much more important about their vocation: they have voluntarily elected to undertake a task that few of us have ever seriously contemplated, or, frankly speaking, would contemplate given the choice.

Each morning they rise and make a silent pact with you and I. With a very meaningful picture of us in their mind’s eye, they accept that today may be their very last. Yes, that’s right, today there is a very real chance that they will die. And they rationalise this peerless commitment with one basic thought: when all is said and done, they are willing to end their horrifically hard life to protect our easy one. It is as simple as that. Each and every day on the job they make that same oath on our behalf. My life for yours, mate. They don’t dwell on it for hours. It is just an understanding that is rapidly processed and accepted. Of course, the problem is that these men do not actually know who ‘we’ are. They just have a mental conception of ‘us’. Some call it a community. Others a nation.

Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of these professionals is that notwithstanding their herculean deeds, they receive no recognition. That is, despite the innate human desire for affirmation, they need virtually none at all. Just the quiet and private acknowledgement of their work colleagues.

One of their tribe was awarded Australia’s highest public honour last year. It was the first time in 41 years that it had been given. Yet when offered the choice between a well-rewarded ambassadorial life cruising around the country, and the chance to return to that hell-hole 7,000kms away, this brave young 30 year old selected the latter. And because of that, he has consciously locked-in a life expectancy that is radically less than you and me. You need to think about that. Today he has around a one in 100 chance of not surviving the next 12 months.

One average, 1-2 of these men are killed in action every year. Scores more suffer shocking injuries, including loss of limbs that give rise to severe disabilities. And these are but the physical scars. In many ways, the psychological damage runs much deeper.

Some of you may have intuited that the men to which I refer are members of the Special Air Service Regiment. I would implore you to consider contributing a little back to them and their families. You can do so online via the recently established SASR Trust. Even if you do not agree with their political masters’ agendas, think about acknowledging in a small way their sacrifices. The harsh truth is that these guys risk more in one day for their fellow countrymen that you or I will likely do in a lifetime. Whether we know it or not (and most likely we do not), they are our Praetorian Guard.