On 6 August 2013 the Chief of Defence Force, General David Hurley officially opened a new exhibition at the Australian War Memorial (AWM). In doing so he and the AWM paid tribute to Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel who serve and continue to serve in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO), which is the focus of the exhibition.
The genisis of the exhibition was conceived by the current director of the AWM, Dr Brendan Nelson while he was visiting troops in Afghanistan.
“During my visit a soldier there said to me: ‘I go to the War Memorial quite a bit and I take my son and I can show him what his Great Grand Father and Grandfather did in the wars, but I can’t show him what I’m doing here in Afghanistan’. I knew at that moment I wanted to pay tribute to all that have served in this campaign.”
The exhibition features a variety of memorabilia from the campaign including uniforms and protective dress from both Navy and Army as well as artwork and an audio visual display telling the stories of more than 30 ADF personnel and their families explaining what their MEAO experience meant to them.
Prior to its opening all three services were asked to select a representative to view the exhibition without the restrictions of an opening crowd.
Captain Michele Miller currently the Chief of Staff, Navy Strategic Command, was the Executive Officer of HMAS Stuart patrolling Iraqi waters and was on scene at suicide bomb boat blasts against oil terminals on the eve of Anzac Day in 2004.
CAPT Miller said it provided a realistic and sometimes emotional insight into the activities of real people the MEAO.
“It shows the bigger picture beyond the headline stories about soldiers on the ground, and includes the Navy counter piracy operations and the RAAF role in surveillance and air lift in the theatre, as well as stories from parents and wives” she said.
“I think the timing of the exhibit is great, and I understand that it will be updated with new stories every three months or so” CAPT Miller said.
“My father served in Vietnam and said that the Australian public didn’t understand what was going on, on the ground both in terms of the fighting and the reconstruction efforts. The timing of this exhibit is important as it means regular Australians can come and see what is happening now and hear the stories of those who may even be their neighbours.”
The exhibition will stay in its current location in the AWM for up to five years and it will likely move to a larger memorial space as more artefacts become available.
Further information about the exhibition is available on the Australian War Memorial website at https://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/afghanistan-australian-story/.
Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20131045.