IN the halls of the Coffs Harbour school, where he once sat as a student, hangs a laminated newspaper cutting detailing Captain Ben Howard’s deployment in Afghanistan.
The 25-year-old soldier, serving a tour of duty in a mountain locked Afghani valley, appeared in The Australian newspaper at the weekend.
His parents Michelle and John Howard couldn’t believe it when friends and family called to say their son had made national headlines, for all the right reasons.
“I am just so happy he is making a meaningful difference in the lives of the people over there, we are just so proud of him,” Mrs Howard said.
“We were amazed that he was selected from a thousand Australian soldiers in Afghanistan to feature in that photograph.”
Captain Howard, a former student of Coffs Harbour’s Christian Community School, detailed his mission in the Baluchi Valley, at the base of the Shin Lash Gar mountain range.
He commands a group of 15 Diggers, who live at a small fortified patrol base mentoring an Afghan army unit.
An officer with the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Ben says he has seen few signs of insurgent activity during his time in the valley.
He has observed a slow but steady increase in the capability of the Afghan soldiers during his six months there.
“When they go out on patrol it is not what we would consider ideal, but they still achieve the tasks they set out to do. They are good at community engagement,” Captain Howard told the Australian.
He said he was proud of his band of even younger Australians who “understand entirely what we are trying to do out here”.
Ben keeps in touch with his family, calling once a week.
“I send him a parcel every week as well, including clippings of national and international news so he keeps in touch with the world. I’ll have to send copies of his articles in the next package,” his mother said.
Ben, an Australian Defence Force Academy graduate, is now based in Darwin is expected to return home in coming months.