BOOK REVIEW by Gordon Traill - Iraq Veteran

“COMBAT MEDIC” by Terry Pickard is an eyewitness account by Terry - an Australian Army Medic who was at the “Kibeho Massacre” in Rwanda.

“Combat Medic” is a fascinating story and a journey of one man’s life, pre and post Rwanda. Pickard is vivid in his descriptions of what it was like to serve on a UN mission. He is critical of how people have judged Peacekeeping service and the lack of bravery awards handed out to members of UNAMIR at Kibeho.

The powerful and confronting account of Pickard’s time at Kibeho will shock you. It will go some way for the reader to understand, why Pickard has struggled with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for so many years since his return to Australia. Pickard definitely wears his heart on his sleeve as he deals with his illness.

The story of Kibeho needs to be told and be passed on to future generations of men and women who join the Australian Defence Force. “At last the old myth of Peacekeeping service with the UN being just a bit of a holiday and a good way of earning extra money was put away for good”. “We could only sit and watch in horror”. The scale of genocide that took place at Kibeho is mind numbing. The immense pressure and strictness of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) placed upon the Australians by the UN would have tested any man’s limits. The Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) tried everything to intimidate the Australians to open fire. Strict adherence of the ROE and personal discipline saved the Australians from being killed. SAS patrol medic Paul Jordan said years later "we are good, but not that good". “There were around 2,000 RPA soldiers, all focused on killing, and only 32 of us”.

Pickard details what would have happened if they were caught taking photos. “The RPA would not allow anyone to take photos, let alone footage”. “George Gittoes, the war artist attached to us, had been threatened with death if he took pictures”. He was “determined to let the world know what was happening in Kibeho”. George’s photos have been seen all over the world in magazines and television stories about Rwanda.

Infantry provided security to the Australian Medical team who worked tirelessly with the “sea of humanity” that was estimated to be around 150,000 people. Pickard talks about his trust in fellow Australian soldiers. "We were treating about six casualties who were placed along a wall for protection when shooting started. I wasn't sure whether I should continue treating them or take up a defensive position. I had a quick look around and saw our infantry blokes on the wire. As soon as I saw our blokes there I instantly knew I had nothing to worry about and was able to continue treating the casualties."

Pickard sums up his time at Kibeho, “April 18-22 1995, was the most testing time of my life both physically and mentally. I believe I did ok. We saved who we could and did our best in the most atrocious conditions”.

The members who served as part of United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) were awarded the Australian Service Medal (ASM) for ‘non warlike service’. In February 2006, the Government of the day changed the reclassification of service to the Australian Active Service Medal (AASM) for Warlike service.

Terry Pickard, the ADF members who served as part of UNAMIR and George Gittoes are the real heroes of Kibeho. The Anzac legend lives on.