Monday, January 12, 2009

Greg Sher honoured

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a moving eulogy at the military funeral Sunday of a Jewish soldier killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the request of the slain soldier's family, donning a yarmulke, Rudd delivered a euology, telling almost 2,000 mourners at Melbourne's Lyndhurst Jewish Cemetery that Private Gregory Sher's death was not in vain. "He believed not just in the service of which he was a proud member, but also in the ideals to which Australia was committed in the fight against terrorism," Rudd said.

Sher, a 30-year-old South African-born soldier, was killed Jan. 4 in a rocket attack on a military compound southwest of Kabul.

Dozens of dignitaries followed Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn from the makeshift marquee to the grave site, including opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, members of the military's top brass and Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem. They were joined by dozens of soldiers and war veterans. Private Sher's casket, draped in the Australian flag, arrived at the burial site in a gun-carriage escorted by members of Australia's elite forces and an honor guard from his own company. A volley of gun shots was fired before Sher's coffin was buried. The prime minister joined the Sher family and other mourners in shoveling earth into the grave.

Sher is the eighth Australian soldier, and the first of the country's reservists, killed in Afghanistan since Australia sent forces to aid the United States-led coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He is believed to be Australia's first Jewish military casualty at least since the Vietnam War.

Fitzgibbon, the defense minister, told local media that Sher was "an Australian hero." "He understood the risks but willingly did what his country asked of him," Fitzgibbon said. Michael Danby, a Jewish parliamentarian in Rudd's government, told JTA he had never seen a funeral like it before. "There will probably never be a funeral like that ever again, where not just parents but the prime minister, leader of the opposition and three generals helped bury Greg Sher," he said.

Rabbi Ralph Genende, the local Jewish chaplain to the armed forces, told the Australian Jewish News that Sher was "a courageous soldier, a mensch [nice guy] and a committed Jew." Sher received a farewell from his comrades at a military ceremony Thursday in Afghanistan; a star of David was hung above his casket in the hangar before his body was repatriated to Melbourne Jan. 9.

In a statement issued issued through the Defense Department late last week, the Sher family declared: "Greg was a man of purpose and committed determination" and "was an extremely positive person with a kind soul. He was the sort of mate who would do anything for anyone, and his friends knew him for the great guy that he was." Sher had previously served in East Timor, where he received several medals. He was also awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO medal and the Australian Defense Medal. He moved to Australia with his family in 1986, and is survived by his two brothers, his parents and his partner


Australian troops get revenge

Australian special forces troops have killed a Taliban leader believed to have orchestrated the rocket attack that killed an Australian soldier in Afghanistan last weekend. Private Gregory Sher, whose funeral will be held in Melbourne today, died when a rocket struck the remote patrol base in the Baluchi Valley of Afghanistan's restive Oruzgan Province where he and other special forces soldiers were harbouring.

Defence head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, on a visit to troops in Afghanistan, said the special forces troops had just finished a successful operation that resulted in the death of a number of Taliban insurgents and the capture of two. Unfortunately it also resulted in the death of Private Sher, the eighth Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan. As a member of the part-time 1 Commando Regiment, he was also the first reservist to die in Afghanistan.

In an impassioned speech, Air Chief Marshal Houston told special forces soldiers gathered in the dining area at their base in Tarin Kowt: "It is quite clear you made them pay for the death of a comrade.'' He praised them for continuing the operation in a completely professional manner, showing great distinction, courage and teamwork, despite this tragedy. "The results they achieved were nothing short of spectacular,'' he said later.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said it had been confirmed that one of those killed in the operation was a prominent and long-hunted Taliban leader from the Baluchi region. "They actually got the leader who we think orchestrated all of this,'' he said. "They went into an area this guy was the leader. They got him.''

Australian special forces have killed or captured more than a dozen Taliban leaders in the province in the past six months. Air Chief Marshal Houston said the Australian special forces team were having a significant impact on the province. "Last year the violent incidents went up right acoss Afghanistan. The only province where there was a reduction in violent incidents was in Oruzgan. We were against the trend,'' he said.

Commander of Australian forces in the Middle East Major General Mike Hindmarsh said the special operations task group had been operating in Oruzgan since 2005, disrupting Taliban operations by targeting the leaders and bomb makers. He said most of the top leaders had now fled to Pakistan. "They know it is just too dangerous to operate in that part of the world,'' he said. "Our aim is to keep whacking them and disabuse them of the notion that they can exist there at all.''


Yet another attack on displaying the Australian flag

Again with an absurd "safety" excuse

A Gateway Bridge crane operator was ordered to remove the Australian flag by a project manager worried it could distract motorists or fall on the highway. Leighton Abigroup Joint Venture project director Hugh Boyd said the flag needed to go for safety reasons.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Queensland secretary Andrew Dettmer said he was "a bit gobsmacked". Mr Dettmer said he was aware of crane operators being ordered to remove union flags, but "I've never heard of it being done against the Australian flag".

Leighton Abigroup has no policies on the flying of flags and doesn't intend to investigate ways for the Australian flag to be flown safely above the bridge. But that would change if their client - the Queensland Government - requested them to fly the flag. "In that case, we would follow their wishes," Mr Boyd said.

Some motorists were getting used to seeing the flag on their daily commute and at least one fumed over seeing the banner come down. "How many times must Australians endure this crap?" he said, pointing out the flag was acting as a wind indicator to aid the crane operator. The project director said the main safety concern was the potential for a high wind to cause the flag to fall on to vehicles.


There is no bungle like a government bungle

The first day of the Sydney Harbour Bridge's cashless toll system may have gone smoothly on the road but for drivers trying to buy an e-tag online from the RTA, it was frustrating. While the State Government urged motorists to "get on board with electronic tolling", in a shocking case of bad timing the RTA's myE-Toll website page crashed for several hours due to technical problems.

The RTA apologised last night for the inconvenience caused by the fault, which crashed the site from about midday to just after 4pm.

NRMA president Wendy Machin said the glitch was unacceptable. "It's astounding that on the first day the Bridge is cashless, people go online to register for an electronic pass only to find the site says it's closed for maintenance," she said. "Obviously the point of going cashless on a Sunday was to allow people time to get a tag for work the next week and now they won't be prepared. "They make it so hard. People are already cranky about the amount of the tolls they have to pay on NSW roads and now, when they are trying to do the right thing, they can't."

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