Sydney : An Australian soldier who braved enemy machine-gun fire to save an Afghan interpreter shot in a Taliban ambush has become the first Australian in 40 years to win the Victoria Cross award.
Mark Donaldson, a commando in the Special Air Services, ran 80 metres under enemy fire to grab the interpreter and carry him to safety during a clash in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan in September last year.
Nine Australian soldiers were wounded in the ambush, the highest in one incident since the Vietnam War.
In a ceremony in Canberra, Donaldson was presented with the Victoria Cross for Australia, which superseded the British or Imperial Victoria Cross in 1991.
Only three other Victoria Cross awards have been given worldwide in the past 27 years.
Donaldson is the 97th Australian to receive the award since the South African Boer War of 1899-1902. About half have died during their acts of bravery.
“We in the modern Australian Defence Force strive to live up to the heroism and the values of the Victoria Cross recipients that have gone before us,” Defence Force Chief Angus Houston said.
In keeping with protocol, Air Chief Marshal Houston saluted Private Donaldson.
“As the highest ranking member of the Defence Force, there has been no current serving member that I salute until now,” he said.
“Tradition holds that even the most senior officer will salute a Victoria Cross recipient as a mark of the utmost respect for their act of valour,” Houston added.
“I don’t see myself as a hero. I was in Afghanistan just doing my job. My training and my instincts took over on the day,” Donaldson said in a statement. “I am very proud but also keen to get back to work and be with my mates.”