ANZAC: Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice – An interview with Daniel Keighran VC
Courage, Endurance, Mateship and Sacrifice are the spirit of ANZAC. It exemplifies our diggers and who they are.
These words sum up the spirit of Daniel Keighran perfectly. In February 2010, Daniel was deployed on his 2nd tour to Afghanistan. On the 24th August 2010 whilst on the outskirts of Derapet, Afghanistan his patrol came under heavy fire by a numerically superior insurgent force.
After one of his teammates was wounded, Daniel acted on his own initiative and took decisive action to turn the tide of the battle. This decision would see him risk his life and purposely draw enemy fire to himself and away from the rest of his patrol who were treating their teammate. This firefight and Daniel’s actions would continue for 3 hours.
Rewarded for Bravery
For his heroic actions on that day Daniel was awarded Australia’s 99th Victoria Cross, which is the highest award for acts of bravery in war. On the reverse of the cross, the date of the act of bravery is inscribed, along with the name, rank, and unit of the recipient. Daniel’s citation on his Victoria Cross reads “For the most conspicuous acts of gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in action in circumstances of great peril”. Daniel is one of only nine living Victoria Cross recipients in the world.
Daniel served 14 years in the Australian Army, being deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq & East Timor. Whilst no longer in the Army he’s stayed true to his defence roots and continues to serve in the Army Reserves and is an Ambassador for the Australian Defence Force Assistance Trust.
ICMI’s Viki Markoff recently caught up with Daniel to hear all about his career in the Australian Army…
Viki: What made you originally join the Army when you were aged just 17?
Daniel: My maternal Grandfather was in artillery throughout World War 2 and encouraged me to enlist as an infantryman from an early age. As I grew up in a small country town with very limited career options this seemed like a great option for me.
Viki: Tell me about your early training experiences prior to graduating?
Daniel: I was far from an exceptional soldier in the first few weeks of my Army Career. I had a physical toughness about me as would be expected from a country boy who started breaking in wild horses and riding bulls from a young age. But I found the obstacle courses and climbing ropes hard, at 17 my upper body strength was not what it should be. I really feel that what my wife would call my obstinate personality and sheer perseverance got me through, I refused to accept failure.
Viki: You were deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq & East Timor. Which of these deployments was your toughest personal challenge?
Daniel: My toughest personal challenge was my last deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 after finishing the firefight on the 24th August in Derapet and breaking contact with the enemy. The move from the contact point back to our patrol base was the hardest thing that I have done in my life, physically and emotionally I have never been so drained having a mate killed on the battle-field, then carrying his equipment kilometres back through the desert in the blazing sun to his team’s position.
Viki: How did you keep in touch with your family when you are serving in another country?
Daniel: I tried to call my Mum at least once a week, most of the major patrol bases have phones that we all lined up to use. I called my wife as often as I could, she used Facebook to keep me updated on the day to day in Brisbane and we would try to Skype when we could. When I was at a more remote patrol base we had only satellite phones, so contact with home was very limited. I also really enjoyed receiving care packages from family and friends, they would come every few weeks and all the boys would share the treats from home.
Viki: After experiencing an event such as the one you were involved in on 24th August 2010 and receiving the Victoria Cross. How do you then go about getting on with the job?
Daniel: Sometimes bad things happen to good people, all you can really do is your best. While we didn’t get the outcome we hoped for when we lost Jared, we did leave Afghanistan feeling like we had made a difference. The rotation that moved into our patrol base at the end of 2010 reported better communication and relationships with the local Afghanistan people and we felt that our mentoring and training of local Afghan troops had really helped to make a difference. I think returning back to your reasons for being somewhere or your mission really help you to overcome difficult situations and concentrate on what is required. Knowing you have the support of friends, family and loved ones back homes really helps as well.
Viki: What is your greatest memory from serving in the Australian Army?
Daniel: My favourite memory was when my Grandfather travelled from Maroochydore in QLD to Singleton NSW by bus to attend my Graduation from the School of Infantry. To see him in the crowd at my march out parade was a really proud moment and made me stand that little bit taller.
Viki: What tips would you give to someone on how to stay focused and make effective decisions in very pressured environments?
Daniel: My military training provided a good basis as they are exceptional at developing strong and cohesive teams. Staying focused on the overall objective or mission is paramount. I think the key is to be flexible and make timely and decisive decisions from the information on hand. In combat, not acting could result in the death of myself or my comrades, quick and informed decisions are key.
Viki: Do you have any plans for the ANZAC Centenary?
Daniel: I’m sure there will be a lot of involvement during the centenary commemoration’s from World War 1. Certainly Anzac Day and Remembrance Day will take on extra significance and I hope to be part of the commemorations of the Battle of Lone Pine in August 2015 as well as Beersheba in 2017.
ICMI wish Daniel all the very best in his future adventures and offer a big thank you for taking time out to talk to us.