Here's an interesting story about some of the dangers of driving a tank in peacetime:
COURAGE, initiative, teamwork - Army's values are no better exemplified than the actions of a soldier who acted instinctively to save a mate's life at a time of great peril.
It was May 5, three years ago during Exercise Tandem Thrust when LCpl (now Cpl) Shaun Clements saved the life of a Leopard tank driver while regaining control of a 1 Armd Regt runaway tank.
In doing so, Cpl Clements was seriously injured.
Such actions have now be recognised with the award of the Star of Courage, Australia's second-highest bravery award, by the Governor-General, Maj-Gen Michael Jeffreys (rtd), to Cpl Clements, announced on March 8.
Cpl Clements, who is now an instructor at the School of Armour, is one of only 116 Australians to be awarded the Star.
Not surprisingly, what happened that day at Shoalwater Bay Training Area is burned into his memory.
"I was the troop-leader's operator in call-sign 24. At about 5pm in the afternoon we were pulling in for orders into a squadron hide," he said.
"When we reached the track plan into the hide, we were met by a ground guide and the driver, Tpr Richard Turner stuck his head up [from the enclosed drivers position] to be guided in."
Call-sign 24 was reduced to a three-man crew during the exercise, lacking the gunner and with only the troop leader and troop leader's operator in the turret.
"We were proceeding down the track plan, when our boss at the time traversed the turret, which caught the driver's head and squashed it into the driver's hole."
Initially the driver managed to free his head from his helmet.
"Then the gun traversed the other way squashing his head without his helmet."
"He was obviously screaming."
With the tank still moving along the track plan, Cpl Clements reacted - leaving the relative safety of the turret and crawling onto the unprotected hull of the tank.
"I jumped out of my hole [operator's position] and crouched down in front of the driver to see what was going on. At that moment he went unconscious and put his foot on the accelerator.
"At that time the track plan was going up a ridgeline. When he put his foot on the accelerator we veered off the track plan and down into a re-entrant. At the bottom of that re-entrant was all the other troop-leaders, plus SHQ standing around their vehicles waiting for us.
"I crawled up beside the driver and put him in a head lock to stop his head waving about and to protect him because there was a few trees starting to get dropped on top of him.
"He was coming in and out of consciousness, he had blood streaming from his nose and his ears. When I put my hands around his head, the bones at the back of his head were just mush where he'd had his head crushed, and he had a depression in his forehead."
Every AFV crewman knows the danger of a "widow maker", the name given to falling branches from struck trees, which have claimed lives and debilitated crewmen in the past.
This fact would not have been lost on Cpl Clements as he shielded the driver while the tank ploughed through the heavily wooded gully.
"I noticed that we were heading for a huge tree, probably near a metre in diameter and thinking that this will stop us, but it didn't. We sheared it off at the ground. That's where I got my injuries.
"The crown of the tree landed on top of me. Then I tried to stop the vehicle by pulling on the hand breaks, but I think both hand break cables had broken because the vehicle didn't stop."
The tank was now careening towards the orders group and other stationary tanks and B vehicles in the hide. From his position on the hull Cpl Clements tried, but was unable to reach the ignition or gear selector to stop the tank.
"I tried to steer the vehicle away from the other blokes on the ground. I only just missed another tank by about 5 or 10m. I managed to steer the vehicle away and headed it up the hill and we eventually came to a halt."
Cpl Clements had no way of knowing exactly how fast the tank was travelling during the incident.
"The whole incident from start to finish took between three and four minutes, and we travelled quite a distance," he said.
"I was just doing my job, I suppose, I just did what I had to do. I didn't have time to think about being scared or whatever."
Cpl Clements stayed with his driver and assisted in removing him from the driver's position and in applying first-aid along side Cpl John Ritchie, the squadron medic, and other SHQ members who raced directly from the squadron hide to the accident site.
"We worked on him, stabilised him, put a brace on him, got him out onto a stretcher and into the ambulance [an M113 APC located with SHQ].
"It wasn't until after the incident when Tpr Turner was in the ambulance that I realised that I was fairly well hurt as well.
"I needed a cigarette to settle me down, I lit the smoke and took a drag and there was blood on the butt of the cigarette, and I coughed and all this blood came up and out of my throat and I collapsed on the ground.
"Most of my ribs broken and a collapsed lung on my left hand side - I spent more time in hospital than the driver did."
A lance corporal at the time of the accident, Cpl Clements is now an instructor in the Driving and Servicing wing at the School of Armour in Puckapunyal.
Tpr Turner has transferred to aviation and now works as a ground crewman at 161 Recce Sqn. His memory of the events is limited from when he drifted in and out of consciousness, but recalls being inside the ambulance with the voice of Cpl Ritchie prompting him.
"I'd only been married three weeks at the time, and to keep me conscious they were asking me to talk about my wife," he said.
"The next thing I know I'm in hospital in Rockhampton."
Tpr Turner underwent a facial reconstruction and aside from occasional headaches and lingering sinus problems has made a full recovery.
"I have no doubt that if it wasn't for Cpl Clements I'd either be in a wheel chair or six foot under," he said. http://www.defence.gov.au/news/armyn...es/story01.htm
I never suffered anything this bad, but I was knocked unconscious after the M113 I was driving in Shoalwater Bay "threw a track" (ie: a pin between 2 pieces of track broke and the vehicle suddenly becomes uncontrollable.) I too woke up in Rockhampton Hospital, I suffered a concusion and a depressed fracture in my right cheek bone. I later saw my helmet was broken in 2 after my head hit the (armoured) ring around the drivers "hole". A nasty business some times...