Twenty-two years ago my older brother was deployed to war-torn Cambodia to help that country prepare for a free and fair election.
Last week as part of the Australia Day honours, he and his fellow members of the Australian Defence Force were finally honoured with a Meritorious Unit Citation for their courage and “sustained outstanding service in war-like operations”.
The prestigious award recognises their service as part of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1992 to 1993.
My brother, Gavin Lee, (pictured far left in the photograph below) had been married a mere two weeks and was a signaller in the Army with the rank of Corporal. He was part of the ADF’s Force Communications Unit and proudly wore his pale blue beret, identifying him as a member of the UN force.
Members of the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy were also deployed along with their counterparts from the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals in what was then, and remains to this day, the United Nation’s most ambitious and biggest mission.
Cambodia had endured years of uncertainty and civil war, and survived Pol Pot’s homicidal reign of terror during which millions were killed. The ravaged nation was, in 1992, effectively, a country of warring factions.
That it took 22 years for the FCU to be recognised with the MUC is a story of tenacity, endurance and the never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude by a few good and true men, including of one of my brother’s comrades in arms, Paul Copeland, OAM.
The unit became, collectively, only the 24th to receive the MUC since it was introduced in 1991, and 913 members have been included on the nominal roll to receive the insignia. Though, realistically, the FCU would have been the fourth unit to receive the award after the RAN ships that served in the Gulf War of 1991 including HMAS Sydney, HMAS Brisbane and the Clearance Diving Team 3. Had the MUC been awarded at the end of the operation, it would have been the first for an Army commanded unit. No mean feat. [click to continue…]