Nestled, almost hidden, in the south east corner of the Suncorp Stadium precinct is the 42 for 42 Afghanistan Memorial Garden. This publicly accessible garden remembers the 41 Australian military members who died and those who were injured during the Afghanistan occupation.
On the weekend I participated in the seventh annual fundraiser at Suncorp stadium. For 42 hours people walk the stadium concourse in memory of the fallen and to raise funds for the maintenance and sustainment of the garden. The event is both sombre and a celebration of the fallen with a brick dedicated to each person carried for an hour.
The event is a number of things to different people. A personal challenge, a rememberacne stroll with family and friends, a honourific by members of the deceased’s unit or core or a personal tribute. Some come for an hour, others more while a few including families and support staff attend the full 42 hours.
As I pushed my Zimmer Frame around the concourse I saw dedication to the fallen at various levels. Kids running and enjoying the event, people pushing through the pain of blisters, Explosive Ordinance Disposal specialists in full kit and tiny females running laps, passing me multiple times, carrying full packs.
One of the participants who truly amazed me was a slight, newly promoted, Signal Core Captain. She completed 162km in total, 35km carrying a pack. In the last hour her feet finally gave out so I pushed her in a wheel chair for the last couple laps. The dedication, effort and determination showed by all participants was truly amazing.
Around the Suncorp Stadium concourse are a number of TV screens used to watch play while people head to food and ammenities. For the duration of the event pictures and details of the deceased scrolled in chronological order. As I walked the concourse I saw the photo and incident details for each of the deceased multiple times. When I was serving these faces would have looked of age to me. I could see myself as a young man progressing through the military and how I might have looked at their age. Now in my mid fifties all I could think of was how young are these people. Some of them looked like children, so young.
As my walk continued I despaired over how young these men were, all deceased were male and either Army or SASR. My thoughts then turned to why have these men paid the ultimate price. What was their service for?
Australians served in Afghanistan for twenty years 2001 – 2021. Ostensibly we where there to fight against terrorism which turned into an effort to remove the Taliban government, create a democracy and introduce the freedoms of western culture to Afghanis. While it appeared progress to these goals was happening during our occupation our withdrawal in 2021 proved different.
For those that died they did so alongside their mates fighting for a cause they believed in. I think these young men held the belief that there was light at the end of the tunnel and their efforts would result in a better life for those at home and in Afghanistan. Thankfully they will never know any different.
There is a world of confusion amongst current and retired military and families as to whether the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts achieved anything. For those of us who were there and returned home we were able to justify the visible and invisible injuries through the belief we were achieving good. Now we still carry these injuries but have no understanding of why we have them. Aside from standing with and for mates we have suffered at the whim of those with no idea of the repercussions of their decisions.
So the question that ran repeatedly through my head as I complete laps is “WAS IT WORTH IT”.
I don’t have the answer and doubt anybody else will. Perhaps its a question that can only be posed individually. It is one that will stick with many of us for a longtime.
So, “WAS IT”