“A platoon is only as good as its Commander; a Commander is only as good as his platoon.”
During the entire time that Defence and Employment platoon, (D&E platoon), Headquarters Company, 1 Australian Task Force was in South Vietnam, two of its Platoon Commanders received honours and decorations for leadership and bravery in action.
There were a number of others who served in D & E Platoon and who were to receive honours in other units.
The first Platoon Commander to be awarded an honour was Second Lieutenant Raymond "Mick" Woolan, ex 2787006. Mick was "Skipper" of D&E platoon from 16 February 1969 to 10 September 1969 and was awarded the Military Cross.
His citation reads: Second Lieutenant Raymond Woolan graduated from the Officer Training Unit, Scheyville on 9 October 1967 and was allotted to The Royal Australian Infantry. He arrived in South Vietnam on 24 September 1968 and joined 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment in South Vietnam on 4 December 1968. When that unit returned to Australia in February 1969 he was transferred to Headquarters Company, 1st Australian Task Force as Platoon Commander, Defence and Employment Platoon.
Second Lieutenant Woolan moulded the platoon into a most efficient fighting force and led it on numerous operations. The versatility of the platoon has been recognised and admired throughout 1st Australian Task Force.
On the afternoon of 27 May 1969, while operating with B Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment Second Lieutenant Woolan laid an ambush on a suspected enemy staging area. At approximately 1800 hours, 25 enemy moved across the front of the platoon and were engaged. It was then found that a similar sized group was following the first and they were also engaged. Immediately afterwards a third group commenced to encircle the ambush.
Despite the overwhelmimg numbers which now opposed him Second Lieutenant Woolan calmly assessed the threat and directed the firepower of his platoon and that of supporting mortars in such a way as to regain the initiative. He then called for armoured assistance. The enemy continued to press the attack but were resolutely repulsed by the action's of Second Lieutenant Woolan's platoon until they broke contact on the arrival of the armoured force.
On this and many other occasions Second Lieutenant Woolan showed outstanding leadership, sound tactical ability and cool courage. He infused his platoon with a high degree of professionalism and inspired them with his own personal enthusiasm. His ability and devotion to duty were of the highest honour.
The award of the Military Cross to Second Lieutenant Woolan was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 4 September 1969, page 5200, position 2.
The second Platoon Commander to be awarded an honour was Second Lieutenant John Burrows, ex 55462. John was "Skipper" of D&E platoon from 27 July 1970 to 18 February 1971 and was awarded the Mentioned In Despatches.
His citation reads: Second Lieutenant John Burrows graduated from the Officer Cadet School, Portsea on the 4 July 1968 and was allotted to The Royal Australian Infantry. He joined 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment on 12 June 1969 and arrived in South Vietnam on 18 February 1970. He was subsequently transferred to Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force on 27 July 1970 and appointed as Platoon Commander Defence and Employment Platoon.
During a Platoon ambush operation in the Chau Pha Valley on 11 August 1970 approximately 20 enemy approached his position from an unexpected direction.
Without hesitation and with great skill Second Lieutenant Burrows re-positioned his fire power and engaged the enemy from twenty five metres. In the ensuing action two enemy were killed, without loss to the platoon. In addition, a number of weapons and a large quantity of food, medical supplies and clothing were captured. In this action, Second Lieutenant Burrows, having called in artillery and armed helicopters, handled the operation with such skill that the enemy fled, leaving their dead and much equipment.
As a result of this action the enemy were forced to venture on a further resupply mission on the next morning, with the result that they were ambushed by another unit and lost nineteen killed.
On many other occasions Second Lieutenant Burrows has led his platoon through known enemy locations to place intelligence seeking equipment which has given the Task Force valuable information on which to react. Throughout all these operations Second Lieutenant Burrows has led his platoon with skill and determination and his leadership has been an inspiration to all.
The award of the Mentioned In Despatches to Second Lieutenant Burrows was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 16 December 1971, page 7596, position 22.
"Vietnam Veterans, Honours and Awards, Army" by Alexander M Palmer.
Published by "Military Minded", PO Box 94, Mosman Park, Western Australia, 6012. Phone (08) 9384 4973.
"The Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans, Version 1.10 ", (August 1997 software edition).
Published by and copyright to Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Published by Authority by The Australian Government Publishing Service.