DAY TO REMEMBER MATES ON THE FRONT LINE
By CRAIG McTEAR
WHEN Major Graeme Palmer attends today's Anzac Day services in Coffs Harbour, his mates in Iraq will be uppermost in his thoughts.
The 38-year-old is back in his home town for a well-earned rest after his six-month posting in Baghdad. He was one of three Battle Majors tasked to the Multi-National Force For Iraq.
He is the new generation of soldiers doing their country proud, much like his grandfather, Harry, who enlisted with the AIF in World War I.
Like so many others before him, Graeme's deployment to a far-flung battlefield came at a price ? separation from his loved ones.
His wife, Julie, and daughters, Sophie, 5, and Lucy (who turned three while he was away), kept the home fires burning at Port Hedland in Western Australia.
"I watched every episode of the news. I was worried about him, but there was nothing I could do," Julie said.
Graeme rang home each day, and was back in Australia for only 10 days' leave late last year.
As for Graeme's dad, Coffs Harbour City councillor Bill Palmer, and his mum, Ruth, they did what parents did best ? worried.
"I wasn't entirely happy with Graeme being over there, but I knew he wanted to achieve what he joined the Army for ? to serve in a war zone," Bill said.
"It wasn't a fun thing as far as we were concerned. We were keen to hear any news while he was away.
"Whilst none of us wants to be part of a war, if there is a war, we've got to be prepared for it."
From June last year to January, Graeme lived and worked in the US embassy in one of the palaces of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
He was in the international 'green zone', monitoring reports from battle units throughout Iraq.
"We were the superior headquarters in Iraq. Anything relevant was relayed to our senior leadership. I had to make sure they were aware of it," he said.
"We were handling up to 500 reports a day. I did a 12hour shift every day, seven-days-a-week. But I did get a couple of hours off to go to the gym."
Eating in one of Saddam's dining halls and using his swimming pool were certainly surreal experiences.
While Graeme didn't see combat, he'll never forget the rocket which landed only 40 metres from him one day.
"We'd get indirect fire attacks every two or three weeks, but in the week leading up to the December 15 elections, we'd be attacked every day," he said.
"When I was there, there was a definite downward trend in the effectiveness of al-Qaeda, and now it's moved onto sectarian violence."
Graeme returns to duties in WA next month and finishes up at Port Hedland at the end of the year.