Chiang Khong to Thoeng

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Day 2 of riding Chiang Khong to Thoeng 80kms

Another misty morning of riding to keep things cool but sadly blocking our views of the Mighty Mekong River. However, the sun slowly burnt off the moisture hanging in the air and marvellous picturesque views suddenly came into sight. The mountain ranges off to the right towards Chiang Rai in the distance as we cycled along hugging the hinterland very close to our left.

Passing through small villages it was obvious that rice cutting season is well under way in the North as locals farmers dry their crops on the roadside and on the footpaths after cutting their crops before the winter.

Local school children parade on the streets as we ride along indicating that things are under way for more celebrations during the winter months and harvesting season in the Chiang Rai district.

The Phi Pan Nam mountains and their wide intermontane basins dominate the landscape of the district. The 1,328 m high Doi Luang Pae Mueang massif rises west of Chiang Khong town. The Mekong River flows at the northern end of the district, partially forming the boundary with Laos. Another important river is the Ing, a tributary of the Mekong.

Neighboring districts are (from the southeast clockwise) Wiang Kaen, Khun Tan, Phaya Meng Rai, Wiang Chiang Rung, Doi Luang, Chiang Saen of Chiang Rai Province. To the east is Bokeo Province of Laos.

Due to its location, the district forms a gateway to the neighboring country. Communication is mostly by boat, including the popular slow boat to Luang Prabang. Also bus travel on Asian Highway 3 from Ban Houayxay across the river to Boten at the Chinese-Laotian boundary is available. The Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge crossing the river opened mid-December 2013

Some Northern foods are high on the agenda after burning heaps of calories during the day. A cyclists can burn up to 5,000 calories or even more after smashing the mountains on some very steep inclines . Delicious foods have been on offer so far on route and much more to come to replace those burnt calories such as ; Hotpot, Gaang Hang - Lair, Jin Dup, and Kow Gan Jin being just a few so far.

Hot Pot - A small clay or aluminium pot filled with an outstanding aromatic broth sits over a bed of charcoal. There are raw morning glory , cabbage , thin sliced meats (usually pork, beef and liver), beaten eggs, glass noodles, and the all important holy Thai basil.

Gaang hang-lair - Burmese in origin (hang is a corruption of the Burmese hin, meaning curry), this curry, which unites fatty pork belly, a mild spice mixture, and fresh ginger and garlic, is a regular at festivals and ceremonies – and restaurants – in northern Thailand.

Jîn đúp - A tough, grainy cut of beef, marinaded, grilled then thwacked with a sledgehammer until tender producing a jîn đúp, one of the more unique dishes in the northern Thai culinary repertoire.

Kôw gân jîn - An intimidating, yet popular and delicious snack in Mae Hong Son, this dish consists of rice mixed with blood and minced pork, steamed in a banana leaf package and served with a generous drizzle of garlic oil.

More to come on the long ride home as we continue down the Thai Laos border.

Truck Sams and crew in Northern Thailand

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Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

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Day One of Riding. A 65km cycling day from the Golden Triangle Archway near Chiang Rai Northern Thailand with Burma, Laos and the Mighty Mekong River further to the North.

A misty morning start but nice and cool as my Co-Rider Merle Oates from Narrogin Western Australia, our cycling guide Ning, Nahm the driver, Bird the Mechanic and I ride South to follow the Mekong River.

Beautiful views into Laos off to our left for most of the day while heading towards Chiang Khong. A few big hill climbs before reaching Chiang Khong, enough to test the lungs and quads when hitting some steep inclines just before a decent into a small town that borders Houay Xay across the Mekong River into Laos.

It’s now the Thai winter and the monsoon season has passed so the next 12 days of riding promises to be kind to us as we continue onwards to our final destination 1200 km away at Nong Khai on the Thai side bordering the Laos capital Vientiane.

Chiang Rai City was founded by King Mangrai in 1262 and became the capital of the Mangrai Dynasty. Subsequently, Chiang Rai was conquered by Burma and remained under Burmese rule for several hundred years. It was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became a Chiang Mai vassal. Siam (Thailand) annexed Chiang Mai in 1899, and Chiang Rai was proclaimed a province of Thailand in 1933.

In 1432, during the reign of King Sam Fang Kaen of the Mangrai Dynasty (1402–1441), the Phra Kaeo, or Emerald Buddha, the most revered Buddha statue, was discovered in Chiang Rai when an earthquake split the chediat Wat Phra Kaeo of Chiang Rai city. The beautiful jade figure was then seen concealed within. Another telling of the story has the "Emerald Buddha" hastily covered in mud just before marauders entered to pillage. Many years later, the clunky-looking mud Buddha was found to actually house a magnificent jade statue, perhaps by way of the earthquake mentioned above—which caused a piece of the clay to break off—revealing the jade beneath.

In 1992, the city pillar was moved from Wat Klang Wiang to Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong, where it is known as Sadue Mueang the "navel" or omphalos of the city.

The Golden Triangle designates the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River, since the term has been appropriated by the Thai tourist industry to describe the nearby border tripoint of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Truck Sams and Support Crew on The Long Ride Home in Northern Thailand

 

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Back on the road again.

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The Long Ride Home is back on the road again after riding preparations during 2017 for a 1200 Kilometre journey from Chiang Rai to Nong Khai Thailand following the Laos Thai border and the Mighty Mekong River.
 
With the 75th Anniversary of the construction of the Thai Burma Death Railway on the doorstep in 2018, I’m now in preparations for the retracing of my father Pte. William Sams and uncle Pte. John Butt’s footsteps from Singapore to Thanbyuzayat in Burma as part of the anniversary.
 
I’ve walked the 335 km journey twice starting from Changi Prison Singapore to the Three Pagoda Pass in Thailand leading a Malaysian Commando Expedition in 2002 and in 2005 with an Australian Expedition accompanied by two former SAS soldiers Ron Fossen and Paul Billsborough.
 
In 2018 I will cycle the complete 2,500 km journey that the POWs had to endure from Singapore’s Changi Prison to Thanbyuzayat Burma via the Commonwealth War Graves in Kanchanaburi, The Australian War Memorial Museum at Hellfire Pass and the Malay Force Labourer’s Hamlet in the same area.
 
As Prisoners of War, my father, uncle and other POWs had to endure the pain and agony at the hands of their Japanese captors in the infamous Singapore’s Changi Prison after being captured in Malaysia during the fall of Singapore, later to be sent North to Thailand locked in steel rail box carts with other POWs over a two thousand kilometer torturous journey to Ban Pong Thailand the Southern Death Railway construction point. My uncle was shipped North by sea to the Northern construction point at Thanbyuzayat Burma.
 
After the war they both learnt that they were only 6 km apart in different POW camps, my father in a construction camp near the Thai Burma border after enduring a 315 km forced March to get there and my uncle in a similar work camp just inside the Thai Burma border on the Burmese side and later as part of the construction crew on the bridge on the River Kwai.
 
Japan was supplying its troops by ships on a two thousand mile journey southward around the Malay Peninsula, and it was losing those ships to attacks by US submarines. Instead of supplying its troops in Burma by ships, the Japanese decided to build a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon Burma through dense jungle, using Japanese engineers and an abundance of prisoner-of-war labor plus the labor of local people. The prisoners-of-war were taken north to Thailand in ships under conditions similar to the "hell ships" that carried American prisoners from the Philippines to Japan
 
After the main railway bridge was built over the River Mae Klong ("Bridge on River Kwai" in the movie) the laborers were put to work cutting through jungle and laying track. The building of the railway was progressing too slowly for the Japanese, and Tokyo ordered more speed. The Japanese in Burma were suffering from a shortage of labor at the same time that they were reducing their labor supply through mistreatment and lack of care. Guards beat prisoner-doctors who were trying to protect ill men from being dragged back to work. An estimated 13,000 prisoners of war died from disease, sickness, starvation and brutality. And 80,000 Asian labourers also died.
 
I am hoping that the long ride home will yet again honour those who died during the construction of the death railway and also the many who suffered from PTSD such as my father and uncle after returning home from their captivity during 1942 to 1946.
 
The Long Ride Home continues to bring global awareness of PTSD suffering amongst our veterans and the wider community.
 
Truck Sams, The Long Ride Home, in Northern Thailand
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Last bit of wet season training

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Last bit of wet season training

End of the rainy season, Buddhist Lent and final month of training before the Chiang Rai to Nong Khai Ride, near Vientiane Laos, in November.

The rainy season has paid havoc in the last few months of training and I’m starting to look like a dried prune from being out in it.

Many thanks to those who sent me birthday wishes the other day, it lifted the spirits.

Now Thais would say at this time of the year being splashed with water by a monk is for good luck, but I need to know what getting splashed by a passing truck with water and cow dung means??? It’s the norm at the moment as I try to squeeze those last 1,000 km of training in during October when the heavens open up and nature tries to dump as much water down from above before we come into the dry season next month.

It’s also Buddhist Lent and as I ride along I can hear the peaceful sounds of monks chanting and see Thai folks dressed in traditional garb on their way to their local temple (Wat) to offer food and new robes to the monks (Tumboon).

Vassa "rain" is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners. Taking place during the wet season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July (the Burmese month of Waso), to October (the Burmese month of Thadingyut).

In English, Vassa is often glossed as Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent, the latter by analogy to the Christian Lent (which Vassa predates by at least five centuries).

For the duration of Vassa, monastics remain in one place, typically a monasteries or temple grounds. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation. Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Vassa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking. While Vassa is sometimes casually called "Buddhist Lent", others object to this terminology. Commonly, the number of years a monk has spent in monastic life is expressed by counting the number of vassas (or rains) since ordination.

Most Mahayana Buddhists do not observe Vassa, though Vietnamese Thiền and Korean Seon monastics observe an equivalent retreat of three months of intensive practice in one location, a practice also observed in Tibetan Buddhism.

Vassa begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month, which is the day after Asalha Puja or Asalha Uposatha ("Dhamma day"). It ends on Pavarana, when all monastics come before the sangha and atone for any offense that might have been committed during Vassa.

Vassa is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the laity expresses gratitude to monks. Lay Buddhists bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks.

The Vassa tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha. It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels. Many Buddhist ascetics live in regions which lack a rainy season. Consequently, there are places where Vassa may not be typically observed.
In 2017, Vassa begins on July 9 and concludes on October 5

I’m back up in the district of Kanchanaburi and the roads have been pounded by the rainy season. Huge pot holes appear so I’ve opted to ride later in the day so as not to break the Trusty Trek. The solid rain hasn’t been as kind to some locals as there are some local flooding which has sadly destroyed local crops.

Truck Sams
The Long Ride Home in Thailand

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Vietnam Veterans Day Australia 2017

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A significant day today for all Australian Vietnam Veterans. A day originally put aside for the anniversary of the battle of Long Tan 18th August 1966 but now a day to remember all those Australians who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam war.
 
After meeting my former enemy on the Long Ride Home, I believe it should be considered a day to forgive those whom we fought against so long ago.
 
In recent times the Vietnamese government and local villagers who lost family during the battle have been kind enough to allow an Australian memorial to be erected (The Long Tan Cross) at the original battle site. Such a gesture is commendable, in that the Vietnamese themselves lost many soldiers in the battle and there is nothing erected there in memory of their own losses at Long Tan.
 
I believe that the 18th August, Vietnam Veterans Day, should be remembered for many reasons. It is 50 years to almost the day since I marched out of recruit training and prepared to meet my enemy on his own soil.
 
For me, the 18th August is now day to reconcile, to forgive and put aside the bad memories of the past which is all part of the healing process.
 
Truck Sams - Vietnam Veterans Day 2017
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Riding to the Thai Army Base

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Riding to the Thai Army Base
 
A slight uphill rise for 40kms beckons me to pull up short for the day but after a steep climb it's easy downhill and flat riding all the way to Lad Ya 95kms from Dan Chang.
 
After arriving at the Thai Army Vietnam Veterans Memorial Museum it's time for a quick shower and then a wander through the memorial park.
 
I've finished for the day, rest up for the night close by Lad Ya town before returning to Dan Chang the next day.
A fantastic marble and stainless steel memorial stands high in the park inside the army base, surrounded by museum memorabilia of the war in Vietnam 50 years ago - tanks, a C134 mini version Hercules cargo plane, Iroquois Huey helicopter, 105 howitzer artillery piece, and the last one of its kind from the Vietnam war I'm told - the AC-47 Spooky Attack Cargo Plane.
 
Carrying an armament of three General Electric GAU-2/M134 7.62mm miniguns mounted facing out from the side of the plane.
Missions were classed as close air support. The VietCong called it The Dragon Ship, the US Soldier and Allied troops called it "Puff the Magic Dragon" as it resembled the flames from the dragon's mouth and nose when its mini guns let almighty loose on their targets below.
 
Thailand’s attitudes and actions towards the Vietnam War was best described by Thai Foreign Minister, Thanat Khoman in an interview to the ABC Scope program in May 1967. He explained that Thailand was very much a voluntary and active participant in the Vietnam War. His reasoning behind these actions was both as a means of defense of its own borders as well as helping to bring stability to the region as a whole.
 
Thailand had a different outlook to many of its neighboring countries. It had never been under colonial rule and therefore did not have the anti-colonial antipathy towards the newly perceived colonial conqueror – the United States. Instead, Thailand saw the United States as the only power who could help stave off the seemingly relentless advance of communism. It was a monarchy with a government of both civilian and military participation and very strongly anti-communist.
 
Geographically it held a strategic position with regard to the attempts to stem the communist spread throughout SouthEast Asia. It shared a common border to the east with Laos, Cambodia and its airfields, from which American planes took off to bomb communist targets, which were only 18 minutes flying time from North Vietnam.
 
In the wake of World War II, SouthEast Asia witnessed rapid growth and expansion of communism under the influence of Soviet Union and China. North Vietnam, receiving massive support from these socialist countries, formed many warring groups such as Viet Cong, Khmer Rouge and Pathet Lao to forward its causes – mainly to annex South Vietnam.
 
Thai Government anticipated the foundation of the communist regime in China, the deterioration of French colonist rule in Indochina and hegemonic ambitions of North Vietnam as an emerging threat.
 
Thailand’s worries escalated when communist North Vietnam launched large-scale overt and covert operations in South Vietnam and adjoining areas including Cambodia, Laos and hinterlands of Thailand. The rapid advancements of guerrillas and regular troops of North Vietnam exposed Thai frontiers. In 1961, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) revolted against the Thai government and began an armed struggle. Many other communist groups, emboldened by the rise of communism, fanned insurgency in Northeastern provinces of Thailand.
 
Northeastern Thailand, comprising of 15 provinces and bordering Laos, was the most vulnerable place to the communist terrorists and soon became the newest target of communist subversion. This was a backward region populated by people having pro-communist affiliations and sentiments.
 
An editor of Bangkok Post newspaper in an interview with a foreign correspondent reiterated the sensitivity of these provinces to the communist threat as there was an
expected presence of around 1,500 communist guerrillas.
 
To counter this guerilla threat, Thai government deployed 30,000 men comprising of regular Army and Police personnel escorted by helicopters.
Thailand has long developed a close tie with the United States. In fact, they signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in March, 1833 – the first U.S. treaty with a country in Asia. This relation was developed further since World War II as reflected in multiple treaties, economic and military assistance between the
two.
 
Thailand had already formed a formal alliance with the United States since 1954 as they joined the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) upon the discovery of the “Thai Autonomous Region” group founded in South West China.
 
Thai and American leaders saw eye to eye and need to stop communist expansion in Asia. Thailand, given its strategic geography and communist threats inside the country, played a crucial role in American strategies in Southeast Asia.
Thailand provided Air and Ground bases to the United States, and soon became the largest station of the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia. From 1961 to 1975, the United States installed 7 air bases at Korat, Udon Thani, Nakon Phanom, Ubbon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Utapao and Bangkok. Among them, Utapao was a B-52 air base that had great strategic importance. Thai officers commanded each base although the activities were largely carried out by American’s. These bases had more than 400 aircrafts and 25,000 service personnel.
 
Thai Air Force not only maintained its own planes at each base but also had the task of providing group and air security for the huge installations.
 
In 1969, the Thai government deployed more than 12,000 combat troops, which included Queen’s Cobras and Black Panther Division of Royal Army Volunteer Force, to counter the guerilla forces in South Vietnam. Additionally, it had also dispatched around 26,000 volunteer recruits.
 
Thai troops comprising regular and volunteer men proved more effective and deadly against the guerrillas due to awareness of local geography and culture of the region as compared to the U.S. troops who were alien to the area.
 
However, Thailand’s involvement in the direct conflict was not without cost. In total, 351 Thai troops were killed in action while some 1,358 men were wounded in the war.
North Vietnam finally succeeded in reunifying Vietnam in April 1975. Emboldened by its victories and exit of American troops, North Vietnam expanded its influence and range of military activities in the region.
Thailand had to face the wrath of insurgents within its frontiers for years after the war. Most of all, its direct involvement in the conflict proved too costly for Thailand in form of political, economic and human loss, but nevertheless, opened up doors for foreign aid and assistance that later improved
the Thai economy.
 
Truck Sams - Training in Thailand
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Back in Thailand

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Currently I'm back to a more heavy training schedule here in Dan Chang Thailand preparing for the long rides ahead 2017/2018. From Chiang Rai / The infamous Golden Triangle, North Thailand to Ubon Ratchathani, Central Thailand a distance of 1800 kms following the Thai/Laos border along the mighty Mekong river.

The focus will be on a ride from Bangkok to Thanzbuyayat in Burma following the Thai Burma Death Railway a distance of 600kms to retrace the steps of my father, uncle and members of F Force POWs who were part of the railway construction at the hands of their Japanese captors 1942 to 1945.

There are lot more training options here with flat surface and rolling hills riding, and huge mountain climbs out to the national park of Phu Toey. I've been training here for many years getting my body ready - long distances with varying terrain can take its toll on the body, so coming back to Dan Chang to train makes sense.

Overall I've been back in the saddle on and off for the last 6 months , but now it's time to get the wheels in motion to build up and peak by the beginning of October.

On reaching Phu Toey national park I was reminded of Lauda Air Flight 004's crash and the terrible news that hit the world back in 1991. Talking to the locals here in Dan Chang, I was told of their awakening to the large explosion of the crash.

Lauda Air Flight 004 was a regularly-scheduled international passenger flight between Bangkok, Thailand and Vienna, Austria. On 26 May 1991 a Boeing 767-300ER operating the flight crashed due to an uncommanded deployment of the thrust reverser on the No.1 engine in mid-flight, killing all 213 passengers and the ten crew members on board. It is the deadliest aviation accident involving a Boeing 767 and the deadliest aviation accident in Thailand. The crash also marked the aircraft type's first fatal incident and first hull loss. Lauda Air was founded and run by the former Formula One world motor 
racing champion Niki Lauda. Lauda was personally involved in the accident investigation.

At 23:08, Pilots Welch and Thurner received a visual warning indicating that a possible system failure would cause the thrust reverser on the number one engine to deploy in flight. Having consulted the aircraft's quick reference handbook, they determined that it was "just an advisory thing" and took no 
action.

At 23:17, the thrust reverser on the number one engine deployed while the plane was over mountainous jungle terrain in the border area between Suphanburi and Uthai Thani provinces in Thailand. Thurner's last recorded words were, "Oh, reverser's deployed". The lift on the aircraft's left side was disrupted 
due to the reverser deployment, and the aircraft was placed in an immediate diving left turn. The aircraft went into a diving speed of Mach 0.99, and may have broken the sound barrier. The aircraft broke up in mid-air at 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Most of the wreckage was scattered over a remote forest area 
roughly 1 km2 in size, at an elevation of 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level, in what is now Phu Toei National Park, Suphanburi.

None of the 223 passengers and crew aboard the airliner survived. Rescuers found Welch's, the American pilot, body still in the pilot's seat.

The official investigation took about eight months. It did not determine the cause of the thrust reverser deployment. Different possibilities were investigated, including a short circuit in the system. Due in part to the destruction of much of the wiring, no definitive reason for the activation of the thrust reverser could be found.

The passengers and crew included 83 Austrians: 74 Austrian passengers and nine Austrian crew members. 52 Hong Kong residents were on board the aircraft. Other nationalities included Thais (39), Italians (10), Swiss (7), Chinese (6), Germans (4), Portuguese (3), Taiwanese (3), Yugoslavs (3), Hungarians 
(2), Filipinos (2), Britons (2), Americans (2), Australian (1), Brazilian (1), Polish (1), and Turkish (1). In addition, an American was the aircraft's pilot.

Having ridden to the crash site deep in the mountains I can still see many parts of the aircraft fuselage and engine parts laying sprawled amongst the jungle canopy and the huge bamboo thicket . A Buddhist spirit house has been erected close to the crash site to keep evil spirits away. To me, taking photographs of the crash site is disrespectful to the dead - photos seen in this blog were previously taken by others at the site.

A memorial was erected in the town of Suphunburi some 90 kms from the crash site. A large marble wall showing the victims' names etched in stone stands in a small park on the outskirts of town to honour those who died in the worst air crash in Thailand's history.

May they rest in peace.

Truck Sams, training in Thailand.

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Recent Announcement

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With the recent announcement of$350 Million ( Veteran's Health ) predicted for the upcoming detailed budget soon be announced., I can only summaries that the Long Ride Home from Hanoi to Sydney may not have been in vain and certainly worth every kilometer of the 10,000kms to at least talk to Dan Tehan ( Minister for Veteran Affairs ) and speak my piece with him in Canberra.

It was certainly the focal point of the ride to chat face to face in person ( after the grueling ride ) with the Patron of the Long Ride Home and former Governor General of Australia Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, AC, AO (Mil), CVO, MC (Retd), Dan Tehan MP ( as mentioned) and the Hon Angus Taylor MP Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital ( a keen cyclist ) in front of parliament and later on with the Governor General of Australia His Excellency, General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC and Lady Cosgrove to discuss such issues as Veterans health care.

It was not long after that dialogue which was good timing for my arrival at the finish in Sydney that Dan Tehan went live on television news to announce that the current government had looked deeply into the issues of veteran suicides and that the government were about to soon put forward specific initiatives to deal with those issues.

Let's all pray that the more recent announcement comes to fruition and that the $350 Million will be a sound decision that will benefit our ailing veterans both serving and after discharge from our armed forces.

Truck Sams ( The Long Ride Home )

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ADF live-fire training death

SBS News

Not only are there just hazards of war that claim the lives of our soldiers and the suffering from PTSD long after, but also the loss of lives during preparations such as training exercises that can go horribly wrong. Such is the case of yet another loss of life of a soldier during a Defence exercise in Australia. Our thoughts and condolences to the deceased veteran's family in this time of tragedy. May he rest in peace.

Truck Sams & the long ride home team

 

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The Unvarnished Truth About Veteran Suicides

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