NAMBOUR veterans have sung the praises of Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Daniel Keighran, describing him as having "a ton of guts" for his actions on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Governor-General Quentin Bryce presented Cpl Keighran, who was born in the hinterland town, with Australia's highest award for valour at a ceremony in Canberra.
The 29-year-old spent his formative years in regional Queensland, and Nambour RSL sub-branch members were keen to claim him as one of our own yesterday.
"It's a marvellous achievement of the young fellow," Nambour RSL Sub-branch member Nev March said.
"He's got a tonne of guts, if you ask me."
Cpl Keighran was recognised for his "gallantry and extreme devotion to duty" for his courageous acts during a fierce fire-fight in Afghanistan in August, 2010.
Not unlike many in Australia's armed forces, Corporal Keighran does not like to talk about himself.
But it was a trait the 29-year-old had to overcome as he captured national attention.
Cpl Keighran sat nervously with his wife Kathryn inside Government House as Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Defence Force Chief General David Hurley spoke with admiration about his heroic feats during the Battle of Derapet in 2010.
He later told reporters he would never get used to hearing such praise.
Cpl Keighran, who was born in Nambour on the Sunshine Coast, became just the third recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, which in 1991 replaced the British or Imperial Victoria Cross awarded to 96 Australians.
He joined Trooper Mark Donaldson and Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith as recipients of the Australian VC for acts of bravery in Afghanistan.
On August 24, 2010, Cpl Keighran risked his life countless times after a combined Australian/Afghan patrol became pinned down by sustained enemy fire.
It was the same battle in which Corporal Jared MacKinney was killed.
Cpl Keighran's courageous efforts turned the fight in favour of the combined patrol and allowed them to withdraw from the battle without further casualties.
"Corporal Keighran's acts of the most conspicuous gallantry to repeatedly expose himself to accurate and intense enemy fire, thereby placing himself in grave danger, ultimately enabled the identification and suppression of enemy firing positions by both Australian and Afghan fire support element," his citation reads.
"His valour is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force."
Four Australian soldiers received awards for acts of bravery during the battle.
Cpl Keighran did not want to talk about the specifics of the battle when he fronted the media after Thursday's ceremony.
In fact, up until two weeks ago he had not talked about the events of that day since returning to Australia. Not even with Kathryn.
But that all changed upon learning he was to receive the VC.
"I actually told her the full story 13 days ago. I don't like to talk about myself very often so this is unusual for me," Cpl Keighran said.
"We spoke in depth and I let her know. It's not that I couldn't talk about it, it's just the way I am. I'm quite private in that regard about what we did overseas.
"She wasn't impressed to start with but it's all good now."
Cpl Keighran, who now works in a Kalgoorlie gold mine after last year transferring to the Army reserves, said he was "extremely" proud and honoured to receive the award but insisted it was "more about the boys from 6RAR and Delta company", many of whom he was seeing for the first time in two years on Thursday.
"It's as much theirs as it is mine," he said.
He also spoke about the "utter surprise" he felt at being told he was to receive the VC.
The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, was the one who broke the news to Cpl Keighran at Kalgoorlie airport.
Lt General Morrison said he left a message with Cpl Keighran asking if he would meet him at the airport.
"I was honoured to be able to tell an Australian, and an Australian soldier and a member of the Royal Australian Regiment that the Queen had assented to them being recognised in this particular way," he said.
Earlier, Ms Gillard described Cpl Keighran's actions as "spectacular acts of bravery".
"You did not put your personal safety first, but you put that Anzac tradition of mateship first," Ms Gillard said.
"That's why we are honouring you today. That's why it will be another moment in our history where we can say that this is the best of who we are and the best of what Australians can do."
General Hurley said there was little doubt Cpl Keighran had saved countless live, adding his acts were the "highest level of bravery".
"Corporal Keighran joins an esteemed group of Australians revered for their courage in combat," General Hurley said.
"The official citation will show that 'his valour is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force', but perhaps the greatest honour comes from one of his comrades who said 'I would fight to serve with Corporal Dan Keighran in the future'."
Ms Bryce said the award of the medal was an event of "real national significance", while Mr Abbott said Cpl Keighran was "an Australian hero".
"All Australians will be proud that our highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for Australia, has been awarded to Corporal Daniel Alan Keighran," Mr Abbott said.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman added his congratulations.
Mr Newman said the actions of Corporal Keighran showed extreme courage and exemplifies the fortitude of the men and women serving in the Australian military.
"The actions of Corporal Keighran were a selfless act of courage that no doubt saved the lives of other Australian soldiers," Mr Newman said.
"He richly deserves to receive the Australian military's highest honour.
"Born and raised in Queensland, the entire State should be extremely proud of this fine soldier."
For the most conspicuous acts of gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in action in circumstances of great peril at Derapet, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan as part of the Mentoring Task Force One on Operation SLIPPER.
Corporal Keighran deployed to Afghanistan in February 2010 with the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. On 24 August 2010 he was a member of a partnered fighting patrol with soldiers of the Afghan National Army's 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 205th (Hero) Corps which was engaged by a numerically superior and coordinated enemy attack from multiple firing points in three separate locations.
The attack was initiated by a high volume of sustained and accurate machine-gun and small-arms fire which pinned down the combined Australian and Afghan patrol and caused a loss of momentum.
In the early stages of the attack, and upon realising that the forward elements of the patrol needed effective fire support, Corporal Keighran and another patrol member moved under sustained and accurate enemy fire to an exposed ridgeline to identify enemy locations and direct the return fire of both Australian and Afghan machine guns.
On reaching this position and with complete disregard for his own wellbeing, Corporal Keighran deliberately drew enemy fire by leaving the limited cover he had and moved over the ridgeline in order to positively identify targets for the machine gunners of the combined patrol.
After identifying some of the enemy firing positions, Corporal Keighran, under persistent enemy fire continued to lead and mentor his team and move around the ridge to both direct the fire of the Afghan and Australian machine gunners and to move them to more effective firing positions.
As the intensity of enemy fire grew, Corporal Keighran returned to the crest of the ridgeline to identify targets and adjust the fire of Australian Light Armoured vehicles. His actions resulted in the effective suppression of enemy firing points, which assisted in turning the fight in the favour of the combined patrol.
Moving to a new position, Corporal Keighran deliberately and repeatedly again exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to assist in target identification and the marking of the forward line of troops for fire support elements whilst simultaneously engaging the enemy.
Realising that the new position provided a better location for the patrol's joint fire controller, Corporal Keighran moved over 100 metres across exposed parts of the ridgeline, attracting a high volume of accurate enemy fire, to locate and move the fire controller to the new position.
He then rose from cover again to expose his position on four successive occasions, each movement drawing more intense fire than the last in order to assist in the identification of a further three enemy firing points that were subsequently engaged by fire support elements.
During one of these occasions, when his patrol sustained an Australian casualty, Corporal Keighran with complete disregard for his own safety, left his position of cover on the ridgeline to deliberately draw fire away from the team treating the casualty.
Corporal Keighran remained exposed and under heavy fire while traversing the ridgeline, in order to direct suppressing fire and then assist in the clearance of the landing zone to enable evacuation of the casualty.
Corporal Keighran's acts of the most conspicuous gallantry to repeatedly expose himself to accurate and intense enemy fire, thereby placing himself in grave danger, ultimately enabled the identification and suppression of enemy firing positions by both Australian and Afghan fire support elements.
These deliberate acts of exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril were instrumental in permitting the withdrawal of the combined Australian and Afghan patrol with no further casualties. His valour is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force.
Personal biography - Corporal Daniel Alan Keighran, VC
Daniel Alan Keighran was born in Nambour, Queensland on 18 June, 1983 and spent his formative years in regional Queensland.
He enlisted in the Australian Army on 5 December 2000 and completed his Initial Employment Training at the School of Infantry in Singleton, New South Wales.
In 2001, Corporal Keighran was posted to the 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR), where he served as a Rifleman in Delta Company. He deployed to Rifle Company Butterworth Malaysia in 2001, on Operation CITADEL - East Timor in 2003/2004 and again to Rifle Company Butterworth Malaysia in 2004.
Corporal Keighran was promoted to Lance Corporal in 2005 and then served within Mortar Platoon, Support Company, 6 RAR.
In 2006, he deployed on Operation CATALYST Iraq where he served as a Bushmaster driver, a role he also filled on deployment to Afghanistan with Operation SLIPPER in 2007, where he served in support of the Special Operations Task Group Rotation 4/5.
In 2009, he was promoted to Corporal and posted back to Delta Company, 6 RAR.
In 2010, Corporal Keighran deployed to Afghanistan on Operation SLIPPER with Mentoring Task Force 1 (MTF-1), becoming a mentor midway through his tour.
For his actions carried at Derapet, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, he was invested with the Victoria Cross for Australia by Her Excellency the Governor-General of Australia at Government House, Canberra on 1 November 2012.
Corporal Keighran transferred to the Active Reserve in 2011, at the same time commencing a civilian career in the mining industry. He is currently posted to the 11th/28th Battalion, the Royal Western Australia Regiment (11/28 RWAR), a Reserve infantry battalion of the Australian Army. He is married to Kathryn.
Corporal Keighran has been awarded the following honours and awards:
- Victoria Cross for Australia
- Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp Iraq and Clasp ICAT
- Iraq Campaign Medal
- Afghanistan Campaign Medal
- Australian Service Medal with Clasp East Timor
- Australian Defence Medal
- United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor Medal
- NATO Non Article 5 Medal with Clasp ISAF
- Meritorious Unit Citation for 1-MTF
- Infantry Combat Badge