James McMahon served Australia in uniform for more than 20 years, reaching the much-respected position of Commanding Officer of the SAS, in which he served for two years. James served in numerous theatres overseas and speaks as one of Australia’s most experienced contemporary veterans. He is also a very good mate.

Here is what he had to say:

James McMahon

I was fortunate enough to serve my Country as a Soldier and Officer for over 20 years and had the honour of leading women and men from the Australian Defence Force on operations in Timor Leste, Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout my career, I was also lucky to have an incredibility supportive family.

The medals I wear are not about me – they are about the operational successes of the women and men I led on operations. Women and men, just like you and me, who have families and loved ones, who served on operations knowing that they may at some point have to sacrifice their lives for the person alongside them, the mission and the greater good.

The ANZACs fought for peace and freedom. I sometimes think our memorials should be called ‘peace memorials’, as the sacrifices were made for peace not war. The sacrifices were made for mates, duty and freedom! Our memorials are a reminder to us of sacrifice, service, doing the right thing, the cost of freedom, peace and standing up for what is right – they remind us of the ‘Australian Way’.

The ANZACs, those that have served since, and those that continue to serve all shared common purpose. Like the ANZACs, my experience on operations, focus on the mission, the sanctity of life and my simple understanding of humanity and history reinforces that we must continue, as a last resort, to have the courage to fight for what is ‘right’ and for freedom and peace.

Moreover, ANZAC Day is an opportunity to reflect on our own freedoms, on those that serve our communities and our own contribution.  Especially at this time of COVID-19, it is also important to remember all those that serve on the ‘frontline’, particularly in health, education and essential services.

The ANZAC spirit was created in 1915 by a group of volunteer Australian and New Zealand soldiers, most of whom had never experienced combat, wading ashore before dawn on to a small beach on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Many of these men were only teenagers, some as young as 16.

Over the eight months following the landing, a total of 36,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers were killed or wounded at Gallipoli. However, by their actions of bravery, mateship, determination and innovation from then until the end of WW1, the Australians had created the ANZAC spirit. Their actions set the standard for all the Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen who followed, from WW2 to Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, the gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor Leste and many peacekeeping operations in the middle east, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

My experience is that this same spirit continues in the veterans who have served and those that continue to serve today.  We currently have women and men on operations all over the world knowing that at some point they may have to sacrifice their lives for the person alongside them, the mission and the greater good.

No family is left untouched when a member of our defence force is killed, or permanently injured physically or mentally in action or in training. It is difficult to comprehend the long-term pain associated with the loss or permanent injury of a parent, partner, child, sibling or friend. Let us ensure that we remember those that have passed, those with permanent injury and their families. We remember them best through our actions of support and commemoration. Lest we forget!

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