Ben Roberts-Smith in 2015
|Born||1 November 1978|
Perth, Western Australia
|Service/||Australian Army (1996–2013)|
Australian Army Reserve (2013–15)
|Years of service||1996–2015|
|Unit||3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1997–03)|
Special Air Service Regiment (2003–13)
|Battles/wars||International Force for East Timor|
War in Afghanistan
|Awards||Victoria Cross for Australia|
Medal for Gallantry
Commendation for Distinguished Service
|Other work||General Manager Seven Queensland (since 2015)|
Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG (born 1 November 1978) is an Australian businessman, former Australian Army soldier, and a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia (VC), the highest award in the Australian honours system. Roberts-Smith was awarded the VC for his actions during a helicopter assault into Tizak on 11 June 2010 as part of an offensive in the Shah Wali Kot region while serving with the Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan. The medal, together with his Medal for Gallantry awarded during a tour of Afghanistan in 2006, made Roberts-Smith the most highly decorated serving member of the Australian Defence Force. He was presented with the VC by the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, at a ceremony in Perth on 23 January 2011. He was also later awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service for his leadership as a patrol commander during a 2012 tour of Afghanistan.
Roberts-Smith left the full-time army in 2013 to study business at the University of Queensland. In 2015 he was appointed Chair of the National Australia Day Council, and made deputy general manager of the regional television network Seven Queensland. He has subsequently been promoted to general manager of the rural network and of metropolitan station Seven Brisbane.
In 2017, Ben Roberts-Smith's actions in Afghanistan came under scrutiny in light of a quasi-judicial inquiry into breaches of the laws of armed conflict by Australia's Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Following the publication of allegations that he was involved in the unlawful treatment and execution of detainees, Roberts-Smith, with assistance from a legal team hired by Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes, sued Fairfax Media for defamation. Since June 2018, Ben Roberts-Smith has been the subject of a war crimes investigation by the Australian Federal Police.
Roberts-Smith joined the Australian Army in 1996. After completing his initial training at Lone Pine Barracks in Singleton, New South Wales, he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR). Initially part of a rifle company, he subsequently became section commander in the Direct Fire Support Weapons Platoon.
After completing the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) selection course in 2003, and completing the SASR reinforcement cycle, Roberts-Smith was initially posted to 3 Squadron. In 2009, after completing junior leadership training, he was posted to 2 Squadron as a patrol 2IC and later as a patrol commander. He was a member of training and assistance teams throughout South-East Asia, and also took part in operations off Fiji in 2004. He was also part of personal security detachments in Iraq throughout 2005 and 2006. Roberts-Smith was deployed to Afghanistan on six occasions, in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
The following are extracts from the citations of the Department of Defence for Roberts-Smith's two awards for gallantry.
Medal for Gallantry
On 31 May 2006, Lance Corporal Roberts-Smith was employed as a patrol scout and sniper that was tasked with establishing an observation post near the Chora Pass in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan. On 2 June, the observation post had become the focus of the Anti-Coalition Militia force and repeated attempts to locate and surround the position ensued. In one particular incident the Militia attempted to outflank the observation post. Roberts-Smith was part of a two man team tasked to move out of their relatively secure position in order to locate and neutralise the Militia and regain the initiative. This task was successfully achieved.
In another incident, two Anti-Coalition Militia attempted to attack the observation post from a different flank, Roberts-Smith again moved to support and neutralise one of these Militia. Roberts-Smith then realised that the forward edge of the observation post was not secure and made the decision to split the team and take up an exposed position forward of the patrol so he could effectively employ his sniper weapon. Whilst isolated, and in his precarious position, he observed a group of sixteen Anti-Coalition Militia advancing across open ground towards the observation post. Roberts-Smith effectively employed his sniper rifle to stop their advance whilst receiving very accurate small arms fire from another group of Militia to his flank. Roberts-Smith maintained the initiative and ensured that his patrol remained secure by holding this position without support for twenty minutes. He was eventually reinforced by his original team member and together they continued to hold off the Militia advance for a further twenty minutes until offensive air support arrived.
Victoria Cross for Australia
Immediately upon the helicopter insertion, the troop was engaged by machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from multiple, dominating positions. Two soldiers were wounded in action and the troop was pinned down by fire from three machine guns in an elevated fortified position to the south of the village. Under the cover of close air support, suppressive small arms and machine gun fire, Roberts-Smith and his patrol manoeuvred to within 70 metres of the enemy position in order to neutralise the enemy machine gun positions and regain the initiative.
Upon commencement of the assault, the patrol drew very heavy, intense, effective and sustained fire from the enemy position. Roberts-Smith and his patrol members fought towards the enemy position until, at a range of 40 metres, the weight of fire prevented further movement forward. At this point, he identified the opportunity to exploit some cover provided by a small structure.
As he approached the structure, Roberts-Smith identified an insurgent grenadier in the throes of engaging his patrol. Roberts-Smith engaged the insurgent at point-blank range resulting in the death of the insurgent. With the members of his patrol still pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his patrol, which enabled them to bring fire to bear against the enemy. His actions enabled his Patrol Commander to throw a grenade and silence one of the machine guns. Seizing the advantage, and demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry, Roberts-Smith, with a total disregard for his own safety, stormed the enemy position killing the two remaining machine gunners.
His act of valour enabled his patrol to break into the enemy position and to lift the weight of fire from the remainder of the troop who had been pinned down by the machine gun fire. On seizing the fortified gun position, Corporal Roberts-Smith then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another patrol member engaged and killed further enemy. His acts of selfless valour directly enabled his troop to go on and clear the village of Tizak of Taliban. This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the Taliban in Shah Wali Kot district to retreat from the area.
On receiving the award, Roberts-Smith said he was honoured and humbled;
I am so very proud to have taken part in the action with my mates. This award also belongs to them and to the Regiment. To my family, my beautiful wife Emma and our baby girls, Eve and Elizabeth, thank you for your enduring support and encouragement.
I think for everyone there including myself what's going through your mind is you just won't let your mates down. It's just like being on a football team, you don't let your mates down, you go as hard as you can until the game's won.
Roberts-Smith noted that he—and the ADF—expected him to be able to continue to fight as a frontline patrol commander following the receipt of the Victoria Cross. He said that "[O]nce you reach patrol commander, that is the pinnacle for an SAS operator. You are now the man."
War crimes allegations
Following an investigation by journalist Chris Masters for his book No Front Line, Roberts-Smith's activities in Afghanistan came under scrutiny. One notable controversy concerned the killing of an alleged Taliban spotter during the Chora Pass contact. According to Masters, two members of the patrol had witnessed a lone Afghan teenager approaching the patrol observation post, leaving shortly thereafter. Although the two operators had decided it was not necessary to engage the Afghan, when Roberts-Smith and patrol 2IC Matthew Locke arrived on-scene they pursued and killed the teenager.
While the patrol report had identified only a single Afghan unarmed "spotter", Roberts-Smith later claimed that two armed insurgents had approached the position in an oral account provided to the Australian War Memorial. When the inconsistency was raised, Roberts-Smith claimed to have remembered incorrectly.
Following the publication of No Front Line in October 2017, Fairfax Media's Nick McKenzie and the ABC's Dan Oakes covered the story—linking the case to an ongoing Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force inquiry into criminal misconduct on the battlefield by Australian special forces. Responding to the coverage in an interview with The Australian, Roberts-Smith described the scrutiny as "un-Australian".
In June 2018, a joint ABC-Fairfax investigation detailed an assault on the Afghan village of Darwan in September 2012 during which a handcuffed man was allegedly kicked off a cliff by an Australian special forces soldier codenamed "Leonidas".
On 6 July 2018, Fairfax Media reported that Roberts-Smith was "one of a small number of soldiers subject to investigation by a quasi-judicial inquiry looking into the actions of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan." In August 2018, Fairfax Media also reported allegations that Roberts-Smith had bullied several soldiers and committed an act of domestic violence in Australia. Roberts-Smith has denied these allegations. In response to this article series, Roberts-Smith commenced defamation proceedings against Fairfax. In its truth defence, Fairfax defended its reporting as "substantially true", detailing a series of six unlawful killings alleged to have been carried out by Roberts-Smith in Afghanistan, including those in Darwan.
In October 2013, Roberts-Smith formally announced that he was leaving the full-time Army for a career in business, but will continue to serve in the Army Reserve. In a press conference, Roberts-Smith stated that he was studying a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Queensland, and intended to pursue a corporate career.
On 26 January 2014, Roberts-Smith was awarded the Commendation for Distinguished Service as part of the 2014 Australia Day Honours. The award arose from a 2012 tour of Afghanistan, in which Roberts-Smith "distinguished himself as an outstanding junior leader on more than 50 high risk" operations.
In April 2015, Ben Roberts-Smith was appointed deputy general manager of regional television network, Seven Queensland. He was offered the job when Neil Mooney, general manager of Seven Queensland, saw his potential while he was undertaking leadership seminars for the station. In July that year he was promoted to general manager. In April 2016 Seven Brisbane was added to his responsibilities after the retirement of the long time General Manager.
Roberts-Smith was born and attended school in Western Australia.
Roberts-Smith is married to Emma and they have twin daughters, Eve and Elizabeth, who were aged five months at the time he was presented with his Victoria Cross for Australia medal.
He is the son of retired Major General Len Roberts-Smith, the former Commissioner of the Corruption and Crime Commission of Western Australia and a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, and Sue Roberts-Smith.
Honours and awards
Roberts-Smith was named Australian Father of the Year in 2013.
|Victoria Cross for Australia||For most conspicuous gallantry in action in circumstances of extreme peril on 11 June 2010, while deployed on Operation SLIPPER, Afghanistan.|
|Medal for Gallantry||For gallantry in action in hazardous circumstances as a patrol sniper while deployed on Operation SLIPPER, Afghanistan, May–September 2006.|
|Commendation for Distinguished Service||For distinguished performance of duty in warlike operations as a patrol commander with the Special Operations Task Group on Operation SLIPPER.|
|Australian Active Service Medal||with clasps for EAST TIMOR, ICAT and IRAQ 2003|
|International Force East Timor Medal (INTERFET)|
|Afghanistan Medal||Operation SLIPPER|
|Iraq Medal||Operation CATALYST|
|Australian Service Medal||with clasp for CT/SR (Counter Terrorism / Special Recovery)|
|Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal||2012|
|Defence Long Service Medal||For 15 Years' Service|
|Australian Defence Medal|
|United Nations Medal||with UNAMET ribbon for active service in Timor-Leste (East Timor)|
|NATO Medal for the Non-Article 5 ISAF Operation in Afghanistan||with ISAF clasp|
|Unit Citation for Gallantry with Federation Star|||
|Meritorious Unit Citation with Federation Star||Special Operations Task Group (Task Force 66)|
|Infantry Combat Badge|
- Dodd, Mark (21 January 2010). "Second SAS Afghan Victoria Cross for heroic charge". The Australian. News Limited. Archived from the original on 21 January 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- AAP (23 January 2011). "Victoria Cross for soldier who 'tore into' Taliban". Herald Sun. News Limited. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- AAP (23 January 2010). "SAS digger awarded VC for taking on Taliban". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- Simone Fox Koob (17 August 2018). "Ben Roberts-Smith files defamation proceedings against Fairfax". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- https://www.news.com.au/national/robertssmith-among-soldiers-probed-over-afghan-allegations/news-story/6f845a0225cf06ce032999ba92e5181c. Missing or empty
- "Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG". Department of Defence. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012.
- "The Chief of the Defence Force congratulates Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG (MECC 20/11)" (Press release). Department of Defence. 23 January 2011. Archived from the original on 14 February 2014.
- "Digger awarded top military honour". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 January 2011. Archived from the original on 31 January 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- Nicholson, Brendan (24 January 2011). "Professional soldier just wants to get back to work". The Australian. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- McKenzie, Nick. "The fog of war and politics leads to controversy over Afghan war mission". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media.
- Masters, Chris (2017). No Front Line: Australia's Special Forces at War in Afghanistan. Allen & Unwin.
- Oakes, Dan. "It's not 'un-Australian' to investigate the actions of special forces in Afghanistan". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
- Dan Oakes (10 June 2018). "Death in Darwan". ABC News.
- McKenzie, Nick; Masters, Chris (6 July 2018). "VC winner Ben Roberts-Smith among subjects of defence investigation". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
- McKenzie, Nick; Wroe, David; Masters, Chris (10 August 2018). "Beneath the bravery of our most decorated soldier". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- Michaela Whitburn (19 October 2018). "Fairfax defends Ben Roberts-Smith defamation claim". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
- "Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith leaving Army for career in business". ABC News. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- Nicholson, Brendon. "VC hero Ben Roberts-Smith swaps battlefield for boardroom". The Australian. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- "Commendation for Distinguished Service" (PDF). Website of the Governor General of Australia. Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
- "Awarded the Commendation for Distinguished Service: Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC, MG – Citation" (PDF). Australian Army. 26 January 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
- "Ben Roberts-Smith appointed deputy general manager of 7 Queensland". NewsComAu. 23 April 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
- "Seven West Media promotes VC recipient Ben Roberts-Smith to GM Queensland office". mUmBRELLA. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
- "National Australia Day Council". National Australia Day Council. 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- "Roberts-Smith the No 1 ticket holder at Freo". WAToday. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
- "Ben Roberts-Smith named 2013 Australian Father of the Year (as awarded by The Shepherd Centre)". Media Release. The Shepherd Centre. 26 August 2012.
- Hardman, Robert (31 May 2012). "The heroes given a front-row seat at the royal party: Charles and Camilla meet 28 living VCs and GCs ahead of Diamond Jubilee". Mail Online. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
- Official Portrait Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, VC, MG (image). Department of Defence, Commonwealth of Australia.
- "Australia Day Awards 2015" (PDF). Governor-General of Australia. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ben Roberts-Smith.|
- Ben Roberts-Smith website, www.benrobertssmith.com.au
- Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (www.ag.gov.au is no longer hosting publications)
- Pedersen, Dr Peter (January 2012). "The falling leaves of Tizak". Wartime Magazine. Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 30 April 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
In this interview, he speaks at length publicly for the first time about the circumstances that led to the award.