Australian soldier Corporal Daniel Keighran has been awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Governor-General Quentin Bryce bestowed the honour on Corporal Keighran during a ceremony at Government House in Canberra today.
He is the third Australian soldier to be awarded the VC for service in Afghanistan.
The Governor General pinned the historic medal on Corporal Keighran in the presence of Prime Minister Julia Gillard Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and other dignitaries.
Corporal Keighran was a member of the Mentoring Task Force 1 on Operation Slipper in the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan on August 24, 2010.
A patrol, which was being conducted jointly with the Afghan National Army, was fired on by the enemy from multiple firing points.
Corporal Keighran, with complete disregard for his own safety, broke cover on multiple occasions to draw intense and accurate enemy fire to identify enemy locations and direct return fire from Australian and Afghan soldiers.
Corporal Keighran's patrol sustained a casualty.
He again, in an act of exceptional courage, moved from his position of cover to deliberately draw fire away from the team who were treating the casualty.
He remained exposed and under heavy fire in order to direct suppressing fire, and then assisted in the clearing of the landing zone to enable the evacuation of the casualty, Corporal Keighran's official citation reads.
“These deliberate acts of exceptional courage to repeatedly expose himself to accurate and intense enemy fire, thereby placing himself in great danger and ultimate enabled the identification and supression of enemy firing positions,” the citation says.
The Governor-General described Cpl Keighran, who enlisted in 2000, as a man of profound physical and moral strength.
“A man selfless in the face of threat, courageous in the face of terror, generous in the face of suffering and humble in the face of an honour bestowed,” she said.
Ms Bryce said there were other heroes on that day, but what he did was different.
“Acknowledging it here now does not diminish the efforts and sacrifices of those who fought beside you,” she said.
“They need you to be here. Because by being here the story of that day is told and through it, their stories are told.”
Corporal Keighran had saved previous lives, she said.
“You have pushed the bounds of human compassion, endurance and gallantry to a place unknown to most and revered by all,” the Governor-General said.
“With this medal your nation honours you.”
Cpt Keighran now works as an underground gold miner at La Mancha's Frog's Leg Mine in Kalgoorlie.
Two weeks ago, the 29-year-old was met at Kalgoorlie airport by Chief of Army David Morrison who informed him of the honour.
It was only then the now army reservist told his wife what happened in Afghanistan in August 2010.
“I hadn't told her,” he told reporters on Thursday after receiving the honour. “We spoke in depth and I let her know.”
He said he had always been “quite private” about what happened on the battlefield.
“She wasn't impressed to start with,” he said of his wife's response.
But Kathryn appeared very proud of her husband at the ceremony at Government House in Canberra.
Cpl Keighran declined to talk about the death of one of his “good mates“, Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, in the same action for which he received the VC.
Asked for more detail about the incident which led to his honour Cpl Keighran said: “I don't want to go into it.
“It's more about the boys from 6RAR and Delta company and acknowledging them as well. I am extremely honoured to receive this award today.”
He said the “training took over” when he embarked on his brave deeds.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who met Cpl Keighran and his wife today, expressed a “tremendous sense of pride”.
Cpl Keighran had been modest about his “amazing acts of valour", Ms Gillard said. “To you Corporal Keighran, here today, despite your modesty we acknowledge those acts of valour."
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Cpl Keighran joined a remarkable elite, “the best of the best and the bravest of the brave”.
“What drives one man, but not others, to repeatedly risk his life for his mates, we don't know, but we salute you Daniel Keighran,” he said.
Mr Abbott said his regiment would take pride in the award, adding: “We all do”. “You are one of us. We are so proud of you."
Corporal Keighran’s official citation said that the award was for the most conspicuous acts of gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in action in circumstances of great peril at Derapet, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan as part of Mentoring Task Force One on Operation Slipper.
The citation reads: ''On August 24, 2010 Corporal Keighran of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment was a member of a partnered fighting patrol with soldiers of the Afghan National Army’s 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 205th (Hero) Corps which was engaged by a prolonged, numerically superior and coordinated enemy attack from multiple firing points.
Corporal Keighran, with complete disregard for his own safety, broke cover on multiple occasions to draw intense and accurate enemy fire to identify enemy locations and direct return fire from Australian and Afghan fire support elements.
During one of these occasions, when his patrol sustained a casualty, he again, on his own initiative and in an act of exceptional courage moved from his position of cover to deliberately draw fire away from the team who were treating the casualty.
Corporal Keighran remained exposed and under heavy fire in order to direct suppressing fire and then assist in the clearance of the landing zone to enable evacuation of the casualty.
These deliberate acts of exceptional courage to repeatedly expose himself to accurate and intense enemy fire, thereby placing himself in grave danger, ultimately enabled the identification and suppression of enemy firing positions.
In circumstances of great peril Corporal Keighran’s actions were instrumental in permitting the withdrawal of the combined Australian and Afghan patrol with no further casualties.''
Defence force chief David Hurley said the battle near the village of Derapet in Oruzgan province showed there was nothing simple about war.
“Battles are frightening, confusing and confronting. But there are also moments of crystal clarity.”
Cpl Keighran “deliberately and repeatedly” drew intense enemy fire away from other members of his patrol, General Hurley said.
“Despite the enemy bullets biting into the dirt at his feet he returned fire and provided critical information about the insurgents' positions,” he said.
Cpl Keighran acted with exceptional clarity and composure and helped turn the fight in our favour, General Hurley said.
The fight at Derapet was among the most intense Australian forces have witnessed in Afghanistan, he said.
“Our diggers showed extraordinary bravery and dedication to duty,” Gen Hurley said. “Cpl Keighran joins an esteemed group of Australians, revered for their courage and conduct.”
Corporal Keighran enlisted in the Australian Army in 2000.
In 2001, he was posted to the 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR), where he served as a Rifleman in Delta Company.
He later transferred to the Active Reserve in 2011.
Before today's award, West Australian SAS Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was Australia's most recent VC recipient, awarded in January 2011. The country's first Australian Victoria Cross winner in Afghanistan was SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson in January 2009.