From my book The Commando: The Life and Death of Cameron Baird VC, MG
Khod Valley, Afghanistan 22 June 2013
Jutting, arid mountains sail past the windows of the American Chinook. They’re the high ground, the borders of the battlespace, the domain of the scout and the sniper. When the helicopter banks, the valley floor can be seen: green and lush, the centre of Urozgan life. This is the domain of the Australian Special Forces assault team.
Arrangements of these six-man chalks can smash through the valleys like a tidal wave. To watch them operate is to see a harmonic of flanking, covering fire, grenades and relentless advance.
Cameron Baird commands one of these chalks. He can be recognised in the Chinook by his size, and by his immaculately clean M4 assault rifle. Unlike the other matte weapons, his rifle shimmers when the sun flashes into the chopper. Baird’s facial paint is unique too. It’s not the disrupted pattern that most choose for assaults; he prefers to look like a Mohican warrior, or a Day of the Dead reveller. This is a man who wants to be seen by the enemy, and feared.
Baird is not a ‘phantom of the jungle’, a nickname the enemy gave the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Vietnam for their capacity to disappear and reappear at will. He’s a commando, a howling banshee, smashing through the Taliban like a wrecking ball.
A call comes in from the pilot — three minutes to target. Baird’s legs vibrate like a bass string. He stretches his arms and neck as though about to run onto the football field. Jack Ducat, another team commander, catches Baird’s eye. Cam grins and lets out a whoop.
It’s fuckin’ on. No dry holes today, no empty compounds. Here, at the very end of Australia’s war, the boys are getting one last crack at the shitbirds.
Songs often bounce around in Cam Baird’s head during helicopter rides. Quite often songs from AC/DC.
I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain
I’m coming on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young but you’re gonna die
The load door opens. The ground approaches. Dust blows into the helicopter.
Sometimes he contemplates passages from the books he’s been reading, volumes about Eastern spirituality by writers such as Ram Dass.
There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. As the same person inhabits the body through childhood, youth, and old age, so too at the time of death he attains another body. The wise are not deluded by these changes.
In his quiet hours, Cameron Baird — rum drinker, footy lover and fearsome warrior — is also a philosopher and deep thinker, but this is no quiet hour. His mind is only on the battle ahead.
Boots on the ground, weapon up. So begins the last incredible day of the life of Cameron Baird, VC, MG.