Live fire training dangerous but essential

A former Special Forces commander says the Australian Defence Force’s use of live ammunition in counter-terrorism exercises is highly dangerous but necessary.

His comments come as the ADF today defended its use of live ammunition following the death of a commando during a live fire exercise on Tuesday night.

A joint police and military investigation has begun into the death of Lance Corporal Mason Edwards at the Cultana military base, near Port Augusta in South Australia.

The 30-year-old Sydney-based commando was a member of a group preparing for a mission in Afghanistan.

He was shot in the head, while another soldier was injured.

Former Special Forces commander Jim Wallace says the training is highly dangerous but there are no alternatives at this stage.

“It’s absolutely essential for them to make the transition from being here in Australia, be it on a training exercise, and then suddenly in operations where the enemy is trying to kill them,” he said.

The editor at large of Australian Defence Magazine, Greg Ferguson, says deaths during training are extremely rare.

But he also says live firing exercises are necessary to prepare the Army for real combat.

“You can train to a certain degree using blank ammunition or using lasers on an indoor range. You can learn to fly on a simulator but at some point you have to step into a real aeroplane.

“At some point you have to start firing live ammunition because as soon as you do that, as soon as the consequences of your actions are more than just a reboot, the training value increases hugely.”

Military investigation

Army Chief Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie says Lance Corporal Edwards had been taking part in an exercise involving confined spaces and pretend hostage situations.

“Although this is clearly a very tragic accident, mission rehearsal exercises do save lives on operations and are a vital part of army’s force protection measures,” he said.

“[They were] activities which could be focused on releasing hostages, activities that could be focused on trying to capture in Afghanistan Taliban leadership.

“Most of the soldiers involved in the training are veterans of multiple operations to the Middle East.”

General Gillespie says Lance Corporal Edwards was a committed soldier and had been deployed to Afghanistan twice before.

But Defence Minister John Faulkner wants answers.

“This accident will be subject to full civil and military investigations,” he said.

Lance Corporal Edwards’ family has issued a statement, asking that their privacy be respected to allow them to come to terms with their loss.

They have declined media interviews at this stage.

In the line of fire

Earlier, a father spoke out about his young son, who was in the line of live fire practice at Sydney’s Holsworthy Barracks two years ago.

Matteo Chessa’s son had been laying targets for live fire practice and although he was not hit, he was medically discharged because he was so traumatised.

The Army requested he not talk publicly about the ordeal.

“Now that someone has actually died and someone else has got wounded, it really opens your eyes to well, they probably either haven’t done anything or whatever they done, wasn’t enough,” Mr Chessa said.

All of the soldiers involved in last night’s tragedy are being counselled and the injured soldier was released from Port Augusta hospital late today.

The Defence Force says they will still be deployed to Afghanistan.