An Australian hero

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MIKE WILLESEE: You've got a beautiful wife and two beautiful girls, so the obvious question is - why do you go back?

Ben Roberts-Smith: To have the girls was easily the best day of my life. It took us a long time to have the kids through IVF, but I very much believe in what we're doing. I'm privy to a lots of information and intelligence that leads us to the places we go. I know what we're doing is actually stemming the flow of terrorism into this country. I know that.

MIKE WILLESEE: You're prepared to die?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Very much so.

(PILOT ON RADIO): We kicked the hornet's nest when we got in there. MAN: 1, 2, 3!

Ben Roberts-Smith: We were certainly out positioned and outgunned.

Man: It was pretty apparent that it wasn't a typical mission.

Ben Roberts-Smith: Threw a grenade over the wall, into the compound. One burst could've killed all three of us.

Man: What he did turned the tide of that battle, but it also saved the lives of his two mates.

Ben Roberts-Smith: I wasn't going to sit there and do nothing and just watch my mates die.

Man: He is the most highly decorated soldier in the Australian Defence Force today. He's somebody who's done something remarkable.


Ben Roberts-Smith: Who dares wins.

MIKE WILLESEE: 'Big Ben' was once little, a Perth boy who, at 17, joined the army. Eight years later, Ben Roberts-Smith set his sights on entering the SAS - the toughest, fittest and smartest soldiers in the military. Nine out of every 10 who try fail the brutal selection process.

Ben Roberts-Smith: I think it comes down to desire. You have to want to do it because if there is one ounce of doubt, you will definitely not succeed.

MIKE WILLESEE: You are the elite of the elite.

Ben Roberts-Smith: That's a way of putting it, yeah. We consider ourselves probably the Government's answer to any complex military problem.

MIKE WILLESEE: And Afghanistan remains a very complex problem. The primary role of the SAS is the most dangerous - to target and neutralise senior Taliban commanders, leading the war against the coalition. On 11, June 2010, in northern Kandahar, Ben's unit was assigned a high-priority mission - to capture or kill a high-ranking Taliban leader. They would be choppered in
by the legendary US 101st Airborne Divison.

Ben Roberts-Smith: We had a 4-Black Hawk-2-Apache package, which meant we had four helicopters to carry the blokes and two Apache gunships to support us.

MIKE WILLESEE: That's you and...That's you sitting... That's how you went in?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah, I mean, that actually...that is the photo. That was the day we left 'T' zone. It was earlier in the morning, about 8:30.

MIKE WILLESEE: The Australians knew their target was important. What they don't know was that he'd come to meet 10 other senior commanders who were protected by over 100 battle-hardened and well armed militia.

Ben Roberts-Smith: As we started to circle the target, we immediately started to take fire from the high ground.

MIKE WILLESEE: Ben watched, as 50m below, one of the Taliban aimed a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, at the Black Hawk he was in.

Ben Roberts-Smith: The insurgent was able to get the rocket away. The pilot was able to do a minor evasive manoeuvre. The rocket, basically, went straight underneath the air frame. So, that's probably the most vulnerable I felt all day because you're not in control. The American pilots did a pretty impressive job, showed a lot of courage.

MIKE WILLESEE: Ben saw an RPG go under his feet. He was sitting just outside the chopper. I understand there were plenty of RPGs fired at you that day.

Richard Schleyer: Yes, there was. There was quite a few RPGs shot at us.

MIKE WILLESEE: They can smile now, but at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the US pilots say the incoming rockets and bullets were like nothing.....they'd ever experienced.

Brendan Madden: We were taking pretty effective machine gun fire, and we got hit and the round came right through the cockpit between my feet. I thought that was it. I was pretty sure that I was missing a foot or something, but it worked out. I kept the bullet casing, the round, that came through the cockpit, and I just keep it as a reminder.

MIKE WILLESEE: That was it. That's as close as you can go. It is, pretty much, millimetres.

Man: It's all measured in millimetres.

MIKE WILLESEE: Ben and his unit, six men in all, leapt from their helicopter into the battle. Already, two soldiers had been wounded.

Ben Roberts-Smith: We didn't realise what we'd come up against, and in the end, it was, you know - basically, 4-to-1 odds, and we were certainly out positioned and outgunned.

MIKE WILLESEE: 70m from the enemy, Ben's troop was in a fig orchard being fired on from a walled compound above.

Ben Roberts-Smith: We were hit pretty hard. We were up against more than one machine gun. It just got so heavy, we just couldn't physically get up hand fire and move so we just started to crawl.

MIKE WILLESEE: Despite being shot at from three different machine gun positions, they crawled forward to within 40m of the Taliban until they could go no further. Then, Ben noticed a small structure just outside the enemy compound that could provide cover from the onslaught.

Ben Roberts-Smith: I sort of gave a yell to the guy on my right because at that point, I was in the middle and I had a guy either side of me and we fought that way all the way forward. I said, "I'm going to go and clear the building," so we got up,
he's put in some covering fire and I just made a dash for about 15m. If you can understand, it was not what you would consider an outhouse but a small, rundown little shed.


Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah, shed. I started to clear it through the window, and, as I did that, an RPG gunner had just started to protrude his weapon system outside of the window, and I was able to engage him at point blank.

MIKE WILLESEE: Hey, mate, you say, "You were able to engage him." That sort of takes the humanity out of it. What happened? You saw this guy face to face?

MIKE WILLESEE: Yeah, I mean, it was very quick, obviously. I've seen him standing there with an RPG launcher on his shoulder. I'm looking through the window. As I've come into a point where I've clearly identified that he was an armed insurgent, I engaged and killed him.

MIKE WILLESEE: As enemy fire continued to pour down, Ben held up a grenade as a signal to one of his unit.

Ben Roberts-Smith: He knew what I wanted, so he sort of gave me the nod and was just screaming out a 3-count, which basically meant I knew at 3, he was going to jump up and start and put some covering fire in so I could get a grenade away, which he did in front of three machine guns that were all firing and AK-47 fire.

MIKE WILLESEE: He exposed himself?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah, this guy just popped up directly in front of the guns and dropped a clip into the enemy position. While he did that, I jumped out from behind the rubble.

MIKE WILLESEE: But Ben's grenade had little effect, and his unit was still in deadly danger, still pinned down by the withering machine gun fire aimed directly at them.

Ben Roberts-Smith: When you're pushing your face into the dirt - which isn't doing anything, it's not helping you in anyway - but it makes you feel better-that's when you know you're taking some rounds. So, they were taking a lot of fire. Um, you know, it just came down to the....the point that someone had to do something, had, you know...I wasn't going to sit there and do nothing and just watch my mates die. I'd rather that be me than have to go home and face their families if they died. So, I just ran at the wall.

MIKE WILLESEE: In the face of two machine guns firing and some AK-47s?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah. It seemed like a good plan at the time. Got to the wall, engaged the first machine gunner. So, I engaged him, killed him, continued along the wall a couple of metres, hit the next one.

MIKE WILLESEE: You killed him, you took out two machine guns?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yep.

MIKE WILLESEE: Of course, Ben didn't know it then, but this bravery, his courage, would earn him the Victoria Cross.

Dr Peter Pedersen: It saved the lives of his mates - and knew he had to do that - but the other thing, it regained the initiative. It turned the tide of that action and enable the momentum, which is essential in any attack to keep going.

MIKE WILLESEE: With Ben drawing fire away from his unit, his patrol commander hurled grenade and silenced the third machine gun. The fighting would continue for another seven hours.

Ben Roberts-Smith: That was the start of what then turned out to be a fight that went all day. We killed 22 insurgents, captured five PK machine guns in an area that was 200m wide. That to me just quantifies the excellent leadership that was shown by those guys. They were more than up for it - the fighting that they did and utter disregard for their own safety because that's what we do. You know, that, uh...who dares wins.

MIKE WILLESEE: You went very close to being killed that day...quite a few times.

Ben Roberts-Smith: As did everyone.

MIKE WILLESEE: In a situation like that, is killing like winning?

Ben Roberts-Smith: No, killing isn't winning. Winning is achieving your objective and bringing everybody home alive. If you have one person killed, if we had have lost one bloke that day, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now. You lose one guy, then you've lost. It's not win.

Ben Roberts-Smith: They shall grow not old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

Ben Roberts-Smith: Everyone loves the term "digger" because of what it represents and people, you know, they can relate to that in everyday life because it's about looking after your mates, doing the right thing. You know, you work hard for what you've got. Nothing's free.

MIKE WILLESEE: Ben Roberts-Smith knows well the sacrifice of the men and woman who have fought and fallen for this country.

Ben Roberts-Smith: You're reading those names, you equate them to the boys back home because the names are the same. You know, there's a Smith, a Jones, you know, the Gardeners, and they're all people that you work with now.

Ben Roberts-Smith: At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. It's about honouring them and that's how we do it as soldiers - the most professional job we can do, to the best of our ability, always 100 percent.

MIKE WILLESEE: In 2006, Sergeant Matthew Locke was killed by a Taliban sniper in Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife, Leigh, and young son Keegan. Matthew was Ben's friend and second in command of their patrol. They won the medal for gallantry together. Ben was about to go on leave when he last saw his mate.

Ben Roberts-Smith: You know, it was like it always is - boys having a laugh, taking the piss out of each other. I just remember, you know, like you always do, I just said "Hey, don't do anything, I wouldn't do." You know, a bit after laugh. You're always trying to out do each other. Um, and then I left, I met up with my wife and we went to Thailand for a holiday. Um, it was the last day, 10 days later, I just got back to Perth airport and stepped off the plane and heard it on the car radio.

MIKE WILLESEE: It hurt you. Did it also motivate you?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah.

MIKE WILLESEE: Take a sip. Ben, I wasn't trying to make you emotional but you're more than just a professional soldier, you're a man and he was a great mate.

Ben Roberts-Smith: Sorry, mate.

MIKE WILLESEE: No, no, it's cool, mate. It's's you.
And it's important. Matthew Locke is a great example of the mateship, you know? I mean, you got a great mateship thing with all the guys you work with and I picked one that was special to you. How important is mateship?

Ben Roberts-Smith: It makes a massive difference to you when you are actually fighting with people that you one, really care about and two, really respect. That's why I think, you know, I get awarded something like a Victoria Cross, it's hard to wear amongst the calibre of men that I work with. Because, you know, a lot of people that don't get recognised have done some pretty amazing things.

MIKE WILLESEE: I think a lot people don't understand that you have the opportunity to accept or reject the Victoria Cross.

Ben Roberts-Smith: That's right.

MIKE WILLESEE: So when you were faced with that decision, what did you do?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Um, look.....I, uh, it took me about an hour talking to the chief, chief of army at the time. They stitched me up and told me I was going to a defence housing meeting and the chief of army was waiting in a hotel room with a letter from the Queen so it did come as a little bit of a shock. I didn't - no-one thinks that it's ever going to happen to them so it's a little bit overwhelming and my initial concern was, if I take it, what does that mean? Do I have to stop being a soldier? So I said to the chief, "Look", much like Mark Donaldson had done, "as long as I can still go back, I'm happy to accept it." I will wear it for the squadron, for what they achieved that day and for my unit because that day is just another day for us.

MIKE WILLESEE: And you're prepared to go back?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Yeah, very much so. I'm looking forward to it as a bit of a break actually. The PR is killing me.

Man: Did you see that? Shirt off. Yeah, perfect. That's the way. Turn to me at the shoulders. Bit more. That's it. Good, good. Just lick your teeth, lick your lips. That's the way, that's the way.

MIKE WILLESEE: In May, Ben will be on the front cover of 'Men's Fitness Magazine'. Need a few more people out here watching?
No amount of SAS training prepares you for this. But his toughest role is the one he loves most...Wow! Bubbles. husband to Emma and father to twins Eve and Elizabeth, now 18 months old.

Ben Roberts-Smith: To have the girls was easily the best day of my life. It took us a long time to have the kids. When you come back from operation, you literally flick the switch. You go back, within the space of two days, you're back at home,
sitting at the table, having dinner with your family. Two weeks later, you're deployed to a new theatre. It's a wide camp and I will this year. I will go back.

MIKE WILLESEE: Why is it important?

Ben Roberts-Smith: It's important because it needs to be done.

MIKE WILLESEE: You're prepared to die?

MIKE WILLESEE: Very much so. Um, I only say that - I don't mean that in a theatrical sense. I'm not being silly about it. I know what we're doing is actually stemming the flow of terrorism in this country. I know that.

So for me, and for everyone at my unit, if that was to happen,
as with Matt, it isn't - we don't consider it a waste, as some people say, or that it was fruitless. It serves a purpose. If I go away and I was to get killed on the next trip and that was the way that my life was meant to play out, then so be it. At least I've done it serving my country and making this country
that we love, all of us, a better place for our children.

MIKE WILLESEE: Can you see a direct relationship between what you do and making us safer?

Ben Roberts-Smith: Certainly. Definitely.

MIKE WILLESEE: Thanks, Mate.

Ben Roberts-Smith: Pleasure.

MIKE WILLESEE: It was great mate. Thank you.

Ben Roberts-Smith: Thanks, Mike.

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