Nullarbor ride to remember the fallen, hurt

Nullarbor ride to remember the fallen, hurt

Australian commandos are riding 1200km from Norseman, Western Australia, to Ceduna in South Australia. The riders wear t-shirts bearing the names of their dead colleagues.

Only the brave would cycle across the Nullarbor in 11 consecutive days, though as these riders know, bravery is a relative term.

Four soldiers backed by their family support crew are this week completing the 1200-kilometre Legs for Legends ride to raise awareness of the 12 Australian commandos killed and dozens wounded in Afghanistan and while training since 2007.

Sergeants Michael Kruger, Desmond McCoy, and Special Operations Command members Warrant Officer A, and Captain K, left Norseman in Western Australia on June 25 and will be greeted by the mayor of Ceduna, South Australia on July 5.

“We wanted it to be a challenge to honour the boys,” heavy weapons instructor Sergeant Kruger said one night at Balladonia road house. “No one would have been interested if it was just a big piss-up along the Nullarbor.”

Every morning the soldiers and support team gather together and take a page from a white binder, then they read aloud the biography of the man they are riding for that day.

Timothy Aplin was Sergeant Kruger’s best man. Private Aplin was killed along with two other Australians in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan.

“Two years ago last week,” Sergeant Kruger said, as his eyes began to well up.

On top of the memories, the Eyre Highway presents its own challenges. Mighty road trains thunder past. And as the quartet tackle more than 100 kilometres each day, numerous sponsors have already proved their worth. When a deal with a major bike company fell through, a store owner in Canberra donated four new mountain bikes.

Thirty-two Australians have lost their lives and more than 200 have been wounded in Afghanistan since 2002, with about half the injured coming under the auspices of the Commando Welfare Trust. This body, supported by a federal government grant, helps families of Special Operations Command members on the east coast who have been killed or wounded on duty.

However, these four soldiers are just as happy to generate interest rather than dollars.

Sergeant Kruger contrasted the page-one treatment given to singer Amy Winehouse’s death in July last year, with the more subdued coverage after Sergeant Todd Langley was killed earlier that month.

“It upsets us to see the coverage that celebrities get over the ultimate sacrifice made by our soldiers,” he said.

But many people do care about the rising toll. Along the Nullarbor the grey nomads come over for a chat in country towns that have already lost dozens of young men to war. One woman mailed a cheque for $750, and in Norseman two young boys handed over a bag full of small change.

Warrant Officer A’s wife, Trina, is team manager. The small business owner and mother-of-two from Canberra works with the rest of the support crew to ensure the riders are fed, housed and healthy, before sitting down each night to update the group’s Facebook page via satellite link.

“In everyday life we all have our lattes and it’s so far removed from Afghanistan,” she said. “People forget that there’s a war on.”

Legs for legends

Commando Welfare Trust

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