‘Welcome home’: Afghanistan veterans march in Melbourne

‘A sense of belonging’: Chris Sharp, who served as a sergeant, holds daughter Ruby, while his wife Jocelyn is pictured with Hayley. Photo: James Boddington The parade honoured Australian servicemen and women who have served in Afghanistan since 2001.
Nanjing Night Net

Reunited: Sergeant Adam Keegan with wife Kristi and baby Emerson. Photo: James Boddington

As Afghanistan veteran Chris Sharp marched down St Kilda Road focused and proud, out of the corner of his eye he saw a sign in the crowd with the words “welcome home”.

The enormity of the momentous occasion washed over him, blurring his eyes with tears.

More than 1400 Australian Defence Force personnel marched to the Shrine of Remembrance on Saturday morning to commemorate the end of Australia’s 13-year operation in Afghanistan.

Crowds lined St Kilda Road, some joyous, cheering and waving flags, others sombre and reflective.

“You’re in a bit of a zone at the start, you’re just marching,” Chris, who served as a sergeant in the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle command, said.

“You hear the crowd cheer and see a sign out of the corner of your eye and it kind of brings you back to reality.

“You get a sense of belonging and that the people, the public, do care. It means a lot.”

When Chris was deployed to the Mirabad Valley in June 2011, he left his wife Jocelyn and daughter Hayley, who had just celebrated her first birthday.

Four soldiers lost their lives during his tour and he often feared for his own as his regiment came under fire.

“There were definitely times that were a bit hairy,” he said.

When asked the date of Chris’ return, Jocelyn did not miss a beat.

“January 16, 2012.” The date forever stuck in her mind, such was its importance.

“It was just awesome, not only to have him home, but Hayley had her dad back,” Jocelyn said.

For Chris, now a warrant officer in the army reserve, the transition back to family life and work in the barracks was not easy.

“You go through a time when you know you’re back in Australia, but you’re still on edge, you’re still alert,” he said. “Loud noises make you jump. I had dreams.”

Helping with the repatriation of Rick Milosevic, who was killed months after Chris’ return, was a “tough time”.

“I’m very proud of Chris, especially, but all of them,” Jocelyn said.

“They do so much for us with little thanks and cop a lot of criticism for it, so it’s nice to actually see the crowds out to show their support.”

The parade, and eight others around the country, was to thank the more than 34,500 army and police personnel and public servants who served in Operation Slipper.

It was also to remember the 41 soldiers who died making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Families of the fallen marched and laid wreaths in their loved ones’ honour.

When Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the “Anzac Day-style” national commemorations of the Afghan War, he said it was to “ensure the bitter experience of returning Vietnam veterans was not repeated”.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews thanked the soldiers gathered below the shrine for their “heroism, sacrifice and dedication”.

“Operation Slipper was Australia’s contribution to ensuring that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for the terrorism that threatened Australia and the wider world,” he said.

“But for those who were deployed to Afghanistan, this was about their service to their nation, their loyalty.”

Premier Daniel Andrews said those who served in Afghanistan had done so in the “pursuit of freedom”.

“They protected all those values that we as a community in the free world hold dear,” he said.

“We gather simply to say thank you, but in a more profound way to make sure that we never forget all those who served in defence of our freedom.”

Operation Slipper began in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and finished in December 2014.

The march comes just weeks before from the Anzac Day centenary on April 25.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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