Sappers as heroes: Tunnel Rats vs the Taliban


Tunnel Rats vs the Taliban
How Aussie sappers led the way in the war on terror
By Jimmy Thomson and Sandy MacGregor

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $29.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781760113544

Inspired by the original Australian Tunnel Rats of the war in Vietnam, these Tunnel Rats of Afghanistan have rooted out the enemy from deep inside their caves and mountain hideouts, have defused thousands of IEDs, built bridges and schools to win a war of hearts and minds, and fought side by side with special forces commandos and SAS troops. They, too, lost a disproportionate number of their comrades and many returned home with the devastating baggage of war, post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is an inspiring story of a special breed of soldier operating in a modern war against an enemy with medieval morals . . . and bombs triggered by mobile phones. In many ways, it is a story that connects the unsung heroes of Vietnam with the modern heroes of Afghanistan.

Towards the end of the book, there are two chapters in particular that drew my attention: ‘Wounded Warriors’ and ‘Was it worth it’.

There is a frank look at PTSD with admissions from some of those interviewed for the book that they did not let on how much they were struggling even after seeking treatment. ‘I was telling the psychs what they needed to hear so I would get the ticks in the boxes so I could go back overseas’ says one soldier. No doubt it is relatively easy to disguise mental anguish, but eventually it emerges with often devastating consequences for the individual.

‘Was it worth it’ relies on verbatim input from a range of individuals. The education of girls is a recurring theme among the positive achievements. Another interesting comment was that it provided combat experience for the army that had been lacking since Vietnam and yet that same contributor suggested the 24/7 comms environment bred a loss of robustness that only exercises in the bush back in Australia could rebuild.

So, some interesting and unexpected comments in book that describes the sappers’ role in today’s military engagements.

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