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Paul McMahon

Paul, a former commando, can’t remember when he didn’t want to be a soldier. For him it was not a choice: 

It’s in my psyche, in my being. It’s who I am.

Paul’s first deployment was to Fiji in 1987; Operation Morris Dance, Australia’s first since the Vietnam War. His last was his seventh rotation to Afghanistan in 2016. 

Despite his years of experience, Paul considers he only ‘grew up as a soldier in Afghanistan’.

I went there with some preconceived ideas of being the hearts and minds … going there and liberating the oppressed people. I really felt compassion for the people…I’d see the kids and I’d give them…what I could, not realising that a week later...the Taliban killed him because he had an American dollar on him.

So, that’s when I grew up fairly quick, when I realised that our actions are having… consequences

Paul found that he had to disengage in order to do his job.

The thing he notices most in his ongoing transition to civilian life is the lack of politeness.

Defence life is utopia. Nobody is mean. Nobody is angry. Nobody is rude. Everybody is pretty much straight down the line because there’s consequences if you’re not…

I’m disillusioned. I’m finding that I’m becoming a little bit more civilianised, because I find if you’re too polite, they’ll take everything off you, and there won’t be a ‘thank you’.

He feels a connection to soldiers throughout history, whether they are veterans of previous generations or from other countries and is now active within the RSL.

Kabul, 2016
Kabul Province, Afghanistan

Paul valued the care parcels sent to soldiers by school children, ensuring his command always wrote thank you letters and, when chance delivered a parcel from a school near his home, visiting the boys who sent it.

I’m fairly sure, on the 25th of - of April, it wouldn’t have been glorious. But kids don’t know that. I love it that they actually go out of their way to [send parcels], it’s just - yeah, it’s humbling...

REPRODUCED COURTESY OF PAUL McMAHON

Reviewed 10 March 2021

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