Mark Donaldson

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This article is about the Australian Victoria Cross recipient. For the New Zealand All Black rugby union player, see Mark Donaldson (rugby player).
Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson
Mark Donaldson VC 2014 (cropped).jpg
Corporal Mark Donaldson in 2014
Born (1979-04-02) 2 April 1979 (age 35)
Waratah, New South Wales
Allegiance  Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Years of service 2002 – present
Rank Corporal
Unit 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
Special Air Service Regiment
Battles/wars

East Timor

Iraq War

War in Afghanistan

Awards Victoria Cross for Australia

Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson VC (born 2 April 1979) is an Australian soldier and a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, the highest award in the Australian honours system. Then Trooper Donaldson was a member of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) when he exposed himself to enemy fire to protect injured troops and then rescued an interpreter under heavy enemy fire in the Battle of Khaz Oruzgan during Operation Slipper, the Australian contribution to the War in Afghanistan. He was presented with the medal by the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, in a ceremony in Canberra on 16 January 2009. On 25 January 2010, Donaldson was named the 2010 Young Australian of the Year.[1] He was promoted to corporal in June 2010.

Early life[edit]

Donaldson was born on 2 April 1979 in Waratah, New South Wales, the younger son of Greg, a Vietnam War veteran, and Bernadette Donaldson. He grew up in the small northern New South Wales township of Dorrigo, attending Dorrigo High School, a small state public school,[2] until 1996.[3] In 1995 his father died suddenly of a heart attack and Mark and his brother became wards of Legacy, one of their legatees being a former member of the same Army unit their father had served in.[4]

In 1998, when Donaldson was 19 and attending art college in Sydney, his mother disappeared. She is presumed murdered and an investigation into the disappearance is ongoing.[4] Donaldson left full-time education and took a variety of physically demanding jobs in Australia and overseas.[4]

Military career[edit]

2002–2008[edit]

Donaldson enlisted in the Australian Army on 18 June 2002. He trained at Army Recruit Training Centre, Kapooka, winning prizes as the best shot and best at physical training in his platoon. Detailed to the Royal Australian Infantry Corps, he then underwent further training at Singleton, where he won prizes again for shooting and physical training, and also as most outstanding soldier in his platoon. He was then posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, based in Townsville, Queensland.[5]

From February to April 2004, Donaldson completed the SASR selection course, and was posted to 3 Squadron in May 2004. He has since seen service in East Timor, Iraq (Operation Falconer) and Afghanistan (Operation Slipper).[5] During his deployment to Afghanistan, he was slightly wounded on 12 August 2008 when the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle he was travelling in struck an improvised explosive device.[5][6]

Act of gallantry[edit]

Video of the investiture ceremony at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009

The actions for which Donaldson's VC were awarded took place on 2 September 2008. Patrolling with Afghan and US forces, they were ambushed by a well-prepared and larger Taliban force. The ambush began with sustained machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, causing several casualties. Donaldson deliberately exposed himself to fire from the Taliban fighters in order to draw their attention away from the casualties, allowing them to be moved to cover. When the patrol attempted to withdraw, the number of casualties was such that the unwounded personnel (including Donaldson) had to make their way on foot, beside their vehicles, as the casualties filled the vehicles. As they set off, it was realised that an Afghan interpreter attached to the patrol was wounded, and had not been loaded into the vehicles. Donaldson immediately crossed the 80 metres (87 yd) or so of open ground between the convoy and the interpreter, under heavy fire, and then carried him back to the vehicles where Donaldson administered first aid. The patrol eventually broke free of the ambush after two hours.[5]

When asked about the incident, Donaldson commented: "I'm a soldier, I'm trained to fight ... it's instinct and it's natural. I just saw him there, I went over and got him, that was it."[3] The events were first reported by the Australian press on 12 December 2008 following a briefing by Major General Tim McOwan on 11 December.[7] At this stage Donaldson was identified only as "Trooper F".[8] Donaldson then became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia on 16 January 2009; he was presented with the medal by the Governor-General at a ceremony in Government House, Canberra.[5][8]

The official citation was published in a special edition of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of 20 January 2009 and states (in part) that the award was made for " ... most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan, as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operations SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan."[9][10] Seven days after the medal presentation, Donaldson lent his VC and other medals to the Australian War Memorial in an official ceremony. The medals were placed on display at the end of February 2009.[11] Donaldson was subsequently received in audience by the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle on 10 November 2009.[12][13]

Subsequent career[edit]

After being presented with his VC Donaldson requested permission to remain a member of the SASR and participate in operational postings. This was approved by Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and Chief of Army Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie. Donaldson subsequently served in Afghanistan for a four month period in 2009 and made a brief deployment to the country in early 2010. He was also promoted to the rank of corporal in 2010 after completing a junior leaders' course.[14]

On 11 November 2009, Donaldson and British VC recipient Johnson Beharry handed a wreath to the Queen during a service in Westminster Abbey which marked the deaths in 2009 of the last three veterans of World War I resident in the United Kingdom, Bill Stone, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch. The wreath was then laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.[15][16] Whilst Donaldson was in London, news emerged in Afghanistan that Sabi, an explosives detection dog that was declared missing in action after the 2 September ambush, had been found alive and well by an American soldier.[17][18] Donaldson said of the news that it "closed a chapter in their shared history" and "She's the last piece of the puzzle ... Having Sabi back gives some closure for the handler and the rest of us that served with her in 2008. It's a fantastic morale booster for the guys."[17][19]

On 4 October 2012, Donaldson was announced as the Patron In Chief of military charity Soldier On Australia.[20]

On 31 May 2014, Donaldson told the Australian Financial Review's Christopher Joye that he had been shot in the leg during a contact in Afghanistan: "This 35-year-old “shooter” has also been clipped through his left hamstring, where a slug remains to remind him of why he should never have traversed a track while a Taliban carrying night-vision goggles zeroed in with an AK47." He also spoke about killing terrorists: "Pressed on the burden of taking another life, he says that rubbing out bad guys in “gun fights” – a notably “more personal experience than dropping bombs from jets” – is just a “part of the job”. Donaldson is at peace with a profession that few have the mental or physical equipment to pursue: “I don’t get nightmares, mate. Sure you remember stuff; I just don’t dwell on it.” [21]

Personal life[edit]

Donaldson with family (centre) and other dignitaries after the investiture ceremony.

Donaldson is married to Emma, and has a daughter, Kaylee[5] and a son named Hamish. He has written a memoir of his life called The Crossroad which was published by Macmillan in 2013. Emma describes him as being "married to the army".[22] Donaldson says of himself: "I don't see myself as a hero, honestly. I still see myself as a soldier first and foremost."[22]

Honours and awards[edit]

Five medals with their ribbons and clasps, including the Victoria Cross for Australia
Donaldson's medals on display at the Australian War Memorial in March 2009

UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg Australian Active Service Medal ribbon.png Afghanistan Medal (Australia) ribbon.png

Australian Service Medal ribbon.png QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Australian Defence Medal (Australia) ribbon.png NATO Medal ISAF ribbon bar.svg

Unit Citation for Gallantry (Australia) star.png Meritorious Unit Citation (Australia) no star.jpg

Ribbon Description Notes
Ribbon of the Victoria Cross for Australia Victoria Cross for Australia (VC) 2009[10]
Ribbon of the AASM Australian Active Service Medal with ICAT clasp[23]
Ribbon of the Afghanistan Medal for Australia Afghanistan Medal [23]
Ribbon of the ASM Australian Service Medal
Ribbon of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal 2012
Ribbon of the ADM Australian Defence Medal [23]
NATO Medal ISAF ribbon bar.svg NATO Medal for the Non-Article 5 ISAF Operation in Afghanistan [23]
Ribbon of the Unit Citation for Gallantry Unit Citation for Gallantry with Federation Star for service during the period of Operation Slipper[23]
Ribbon of the Meritorious Unit Citation Meritorious Unit Citation [23][24]
Infantry Combat Badge [23]

On 25 January 2010, Donaldson was named the Young Australian of the Year 2010. That evening, at a public event on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra, the Prime Minister (The Hon Kevin Rudd MP) and the National Australia Day Council Chair (Adam Gilchrist) presented Donaldson with a handmade glass award and praised his achievements.[1]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Young Australian of the Year 2010". National Australia Day Council. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Smith, Anne; Roby Hunt (2008). School Plan 2008. Dorrigo, NSW: Dorrigo High School. p. 2. 
  3. ^ a b "VC for former Dorrigo pupil". The Coffs Coast Advocate (APN News & Media Ltd). 17 January 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Buchanan, Matt (24 January 2009). "The private pain of a national hero". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson, VC". Department of Defence. 16 January 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  6. ^ Dodd, Mark (23 July 2010). "VC hero tires of PR and goes back to Afghan action". The Australian. Retrieved 30 July 2010. 
  7. ^ Dodd, Mark (12 December 2008). "Aussie special forces crush Taliban leaders in Afghanistan". The Australian. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Kerr, Christian; staff reporters (16 January 2009). "Australian SAS soldier Mark Donaldson awarded Victoria Cross". The Australian (News Limited). Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  9. ^ "Special Gazette No. S 10". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. 20 January 2009. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 12 November 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b "DONALDSON, Mark Gregor, Victoria Cross for Australia". It's An Honour. Australian Government. 16 January 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. "For most conspicuous acts of gallantry in action in a circumstance of great peril in Afghanistan, as part of the Special Operations Task Group during Operations SLIPPER, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan." 
  11. ^ Fletcher, Nick (22 January 2009). "Trooper Mark Donaldson loans his Victoria Cross to the Australian War Memorial". Blog Archive. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  12. ^ "Trooper Mark Donaldson VC Meets Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II". Australian Department of Defence. 10 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  13. ^ "Britain's Queen Elizabeth greets Australian trooper Mark Donaldson VC". Dailylife. 10 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  14. ^ "Victoria Cross winner Mark Donaldson promoted to corporal". The Australian. AAP. 29 June 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2010. 
  15. ^ "Millions mark lost WWI generation". BBC. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  16. ^ Meikle, James (11 November 2009). "Armistice Day services pay tribute to lost generation". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  17. ^ a b "Australian Dog Returns Home After A Year In The Wilderness". www.defence.gov.au, Defence Media Release. Australian Department of Defence. 12 November 2009. Archived from the original on 11 November 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2009. 
  18. ^ "Handler never gave up on lost army dog". ABC News. 12 November 2009. Archived from the original on 14 November 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2009. 
  19. ^ "Paws in the wars: how Sabi the bomb dog's on the ball". Sydney Morning Herald. 13 November 2009. Archived from the original on 14 November 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2009. 
  20. ^ "VC Recipient Mark Donaldson announced as Patron in Chief for Soldier On". Media release. Soldier On. 4 October 2012. 
  21. ^ Joye, Christopher (31 May 2014). "Mark Donaldson VC winner - from zero to hero". The Australian Financial Review (Sydney: Fairfax Media). ISSN 1444-9900. Retrieved 31 May 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Drape, Julian; Cathy Alexander (16 January 2009). "I'm no hero says Aussie soldier with VC". The Age. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Department of Defence Official Portrait Trooper Mark Donaldson, VC. Retrieved 3 June 2010
  24. ^ Entitled to wear Ribbon of the Meritorious Unit Citation only whilst serving in the SASR or another unit awarded the citation.

External links[edit]

Awards
Preceded by
Jonty Bush
Young Australian of the Year
2010
Succeeded by
Jessica Watson