Honouring our heroes: Corporal Mark Donaldson

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Under machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire, Trooper Mark Donaldson raced across open ground. A seriously wounded Afghan interpreter attached to his patrol had fallen from a vehicle in their convoy, and Mark was determined not to leave him behind.

Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson was born in Newcastle, New South Wales on 2 April 1979.

He moved with his parents, Bernadette and Greg, and older brother, Brent, to the small country town of Dorrigo in north-western New South Wales, where he spent his childhood years.

Growing up, Mark enjoyed sport and going on fishing trips. After finishing high school he began studying at an art college in Sydney, but left soon afterwards to take on labouring jobs, before working in the snow fields in Australia and the United States (US). Having lost both parents in his teenage years, Mark began to look for a job that would give him a sense of purpose. Like his father, who had served in the Vietnam War, Mark joined the army. It was June 2002 and he was 22 years old.

In recruit training, Mark, or “Dono” as he came to be known, quickly proved himself a capable soldier and gained awards for his physical training and for being the best shot.

By November, Mark had decided that he wanted to join the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), an elite special operations unit of the Australian Army. After successfully completing the SASR Selection Course in 2004, Mark, who was now a married man, was posted to 3 Squadron SASR.

Over the next five years, he deployed many times to serve in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

An outdoor portrait of an Australian soldier holding a weapon and wearing a vest holding equipment

Outdoor portrait of Trooper Mark Donaldson VC in Uruzgan Province Afghanistan, May 2010 (AWM P09587.002)

On 2 September 2008, during his second operational tour of Afghanistan, Mark became involved in heavy fighting in Uruzgan province. As the allied convoy was returning to base following a morning patrol, Mark and his team-mates suddenly heard a “crack” – the convoy came under machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades began to explode around the vehicles.

Moving quickly, Mark returned fire as he looked around for his mates. Seeing that some of them had been hit, he stepped out and drew enemy fire towards himself, and away from the wounded, allowing them to be moved to safety.

It was only later, as the vehicles began to move off that Mark spotted the seriously wounded Afghan interpreter.

With little thought for his own safety, Mark ran 80 metres to retrieve him under heavy gun fire. Back in the vehicles, Mark applied life-saving first aid. For these acts of bravery, Mark was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.

He was the first Australian in almost 40 years to receive a Victoria Cross. Part of his citation reads,

“Donaldson’s actions on this day displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril.”

Mark received his medal from the Governor-General at Government House, Canberra on 16 January 2009. His wife, Emma, his young daughter, some family and close friends from Dorrigo, and some of his SASR mates attended the ceremony.

In 2010, Mark was promoted to corporal, and voted Young Australian of the Year for his exceptional courage and inspirational conduct since receiving the Victoria Cross for Australia.

A close-up portrait of an Australian soldier wearing uniform and regalia in front of a wall with poppies

Corporal Mark Donaldson pictured at the Australian War Memorial in 2013 (AWM PAIU2013/222.06)

He has regularly supported charities that assist service men and women, and their families, who have been affected by war, including the Special Air Services Resources Fund, Legacy and Soldier On.

In a recent interview, Mark reflected on his Victoria Cross award:

"One of the effects of the award that I'm very happy about is that I get a chance to speak to many young people, and encourage them to strive to excel at whatever they do. To be able to motivate and inspire Australian kids is pretty special."

Afghanistan

2001–ongoing

Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001, then US President George W. Bush declared a "war on terror".

Australia's alliance with the US saw Australian military personnel join US forces in Afghanistan to combat terrorism, help stabilise the country, remove the Taliban from power and prevent it becoming a training ground for terrorist organisations such as al Qaeda.

The war in Afghanistan is one of the longest wars Australia has been involved in.

More than 26,000 Australian soldiers served in Afganistan on Operation Slipper (2001–2014). Some 400 Australian troops remained in Afghanistan after 2014 in training and support roles. In more than a decade of operations, 41 Australian Army soldiers died in Afghanistan. Many more were wounded, some physically and others mentally. We also saw countless act of courage and bravery — our soldiers have received commendations, medals and awards for gallantry, including four Victoria Crosses for Australia, the first in almost 40 years. Army units have received citations for gallantry and meritorious service, as well as a unit battle honour.


In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014–2018) we are sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts through the Honouring our Heroes series.