Diggers return to Base Amberley

The bodies of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith arrive at RAAF Base Amberley.
The bodies of Sapper Jacob Moerland and Sapper Darren Smith arrive at RAAF Base Amberley. Rob Williams

TWO Australian soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan have been returned to their families in a sombre ramp ceremony at RAAF Base Amberley.

The coffins of Sapper Jacob Moerland, 21, and Sapper Darren Smith, 25, were draped in the Australian flag and unloaded from a massive C-17 aircraft, which touched down on the Amberley runway at 10am yesterday.

Sapper Moerland and Sapper Smith were both members of the Brisbane-based 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment when they were killed by an roadside bomb last Monday.

About 20 members of the regiment yesterday formed a guard of honour as the pall bearers emerged slowly from the back of the aircraft, led by a bagpipe player and drummer.

The dead soldiers’ family members were allowed time alone with the caskets before the official ceremony began.

After their return the fallen heroes were awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Combat Badge, NATO International Security Assistance Force Medal, Australian Active Service Medal and Return from Active Service Badge.

Sapper Moerland was also presented with the Australian Defence Medal.

Chief of Army Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie laid the medals over both soldiers’ coffins as a brass band played a poignant version of Waltzing Matilda.

General Gillespie expressed his sympathy to relatives and spoke of the importance of the ramp ceremony in Australian military tradition.

“Jacob and Darren chose a military career and represented their country with honour,” he said.

“They have been essential members of their team and have been out in front, using their skills to look after their mates in the way that only young Sappers can. We will remember them very fondly for their sacrifice.”

Commanding Officer of the 2nd Combat Enginner Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel John Carey, spoke of the sorrow felt by the fallen soldiers’ mates.

“These brave men were our comrades, they were our mates. They’re the greatest treasure Australia has. Our thoughts are extended to their families, their friends and their loved ones,” he said.

About 200 Army, Air Force and Navy personnel, Defence Minister John Faulkner and Defence head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston were at Amberley for the half-hour ceremony, which also included the playing of the Last Post and a minute’s silence to hounour two brave men who died serving their country.

As the coffins were carried away at the end of the service, members of the soldiers’ families comforted one another.

Sapper Moerland’s mother Sandra walked across to give Sapper Smith’s wife Angela a hug and offer her support.

The funerals of both men will be held in Brisbane and Gympie later this week.

Their deaths took the Australian toll in Afghanistan to 13 since 2002.

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