“Great bravery in extreme danger” yet denied awards due to “maladministration”!
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Following the extensive media articles published on the 24th and 25th September 2017, the Australian public and the national press asked the Governor General to intervene in the matter of the recognition of the bravery for two diggers, Captain Tony Gilchrist and Sergeant Andy Street, who risked their lives on over 180 deadly missions in Iraq in 2005. To date, neither Tony or Andy have heard anything from the Department of Defence or the Governor General.
Street and Gilchrist were denied gallantry awards despite the evidence of their outstanding bravery provided from the British and US military, the FBI, Australian Commanders and other key witnesses, one of which was their ‘boss’ in Iraq, Pete Norton GC. Norton was awarded the George Cross for his work alongside Street and Gilchrist. He is the current Chair of the exclusive Victoria Cross and George Cross Association whose members includes the likes of Keith Payne VC and Ben Roberts-Smith VC. Norton knows exactly what constitutes gallantry and bravery in combat.
Even the Australian Defence Force’s own Honours and Awards Directorate agreed that both Gilchrist and Street deserved recognition for gallantry. Instead, both men were given somewhat token awards for ‘distinguished service’, identical to those awards given to ADF members deployed in training, administration positions and those in command who do not see combat. The acts of digging by hand for booby-trap explosive devices, searching for bomb components amongst the bodies of 150 civilians killed in a single terrorist atrocity, hunting through crowds for a second suicide bomber immediately after a suicide attack and surviving multiple attempts on their lives including RPGs, buried IEDs, snipers and mortars were just a few of the acts of bravery well above and well beyond that expected of a distinguished service award recipient. This lack of understanding of the roles of Street and Gilchrist in Iraq forced both men to appeal for a review of their service and possibly be considered for gallantry awards. The review process took nearly 10 years through the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal (DHAAT).
The DHAAT were entirely responsible for the denial of gallantry awards for Andy and Tony. The Tribunal ignored over 1,300 pages of written evidence and oral and written statements given by actual witnesses who served alongside both men in the US-led Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC). The Tribunal (which then, and still to this day, contains no member with similar operational ‘on-the-ground’ experience nor any gallantry awards), overruled witness accounts that recommended that Street and Gilchrist deserved medals of gallantry during their time as the “Baghdad bomb-hunters”. The Tribunal ignored the oral evidence provided from Australian Commanders in charge of all Australian troops deployed in the Middle East at the time of Street and Gilchrist’s deployment. Other witness statements that were dismissed were from fellow members of Andy and Tony’s ten-man patrol team, whose UK and US members were awarded a George Cross, a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery, a Mention in Dispatches, a Bronze Star, two FBI Shields of Bravery and a FBI Medal of Valour between them.
Inexplicably, the Tribunal produced a single, handwritten, unofficial note allegedly written by a high-ranking ‘Australian General’ - with no connection to the men or their unit - that they used to justify the denial of awards.
Surprisingly, as the media reports were quick to recognise, the DHAAT reported that they could not identify what constitutes gallantry! So why did they ignore the testimony of the likes of Norton - a soldier awarded the very highest medal for gallantry? ALL the witnesses had much more operational experience of bravery than the entire board of the DHAAT. This is surely not to be ignored when the Tribunal could not even identify what gallantry was?
Following the ‘bizarre’ decision of the DHAAT, Street and Gilchrist approached those agencies that are charged with overseeing the conduct of Government organisations such as DHAAT. The Office of the Inspector-General ADF, the Defence Ombudsman, the Directorate of Investigations and Recovery and the Defence Public Interest Disclosure unit were apparently unable to investigate the Tribunal’s decision, citing that the DHAAT was freely able to make decisions that are “…functus officio in respect of this [DHAAT] review, and [they] cannot legally amend or revise this decision…”. This apparent impunity means that the DHAAT is untouchable, despite clear evidence that the Tribunal members may have omitted key information, ignored witnesses, or were subject to external influences in their decision-making process. For example, undisclosed links between the Tribunal board members and the previously mentioned ‘Australian General’ subsequently came to light which questioned the very independence of the Tribunal when it came to Gilchrist and Street.
What now? Is it right that both men give up their fight for recognition? Should these two war heroes now pursue actions against the DHAAT in a court of law? Is this even possible?
In a further development, as the original Daily Telegraph article noted, Street returned his Commendation for Distinguished Service medal and Certificate to the Governor General, citing that the DHAAT report had confirmed that his medal had been awarded incorrectly due to ‘Defence maladministration’. Despite numerous letters and emails written by Street, the Tribunal and Governor General both appear to refuse to talk to each other, leaving Street frustrated and angry.
There is one option left:
We can officially request intervention from the Governor General – the person whom is ultimately responsible for Australian honours and awards. For this to happen we need public support. If we can raise a significant number of signatures via Change.org then an official request for a response can be sought. The Governor General is the Commander-in-Chief of the ADF and is Chancellor of the Order of Australia and therefore can make a difference.
Please remember that Gilchrist and Street have tried everything they can. Their story has appeared on the front page of national newspapers, has been featured on TV’s Channel 10 News, The Project and ABC’s Four Corners. They have the support from the likes of Senator Jacqui Lambie, the FBI, the US and UK military including the Chair of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association. Both men have already been accepted for gallantry awards by the Defence Honours and Awards Directorate. Gilchrist and Street were recognised by Brendon Nelson - the Director of the Australian War Memorial - as having saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives by risking their own on a daily basis.
Despite this, not a single response has been issued from the Governor General, Defence or the DHAAT since the media reports of September 2017.
All the Australian, British and American members of the CEXC made a promise to each other. For the men who saved each other’s lives and hundreds of others, they promised that their actions would not be unrewarded. This is our last chance to appeal to the Governor General to recognise the Australians - Tony and Andy – and their acts of gallantry, lest they are forgotten.
The media reports are available here:
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