Tribute from a Captain in Greg’s unit

A Tribute by Keith, a Captain in Greg’s unit, one of his first Platoon Commanders and his friend given at the ‘Ramp Ceremony’ in Melbourne.

PRIVATE GREGORY MICHAEL SHER

Family and close friends of Private Gregory Michael Sher.

Very shortly the Commanding Officer of the 1st Commando Regiment will present Private Sher his medals.  This is a very special occasion for any soldier, and, for the members of this unit, the chance to share with you the many accomplishments he has achieved.  We (his military family) are so proud of him and we want to share with you the reasons why.

Greg Sher’s entire military career is characterised as one of being a “volunteer”.  Greg was a volunteer when he decided to first join the Australian Army Reserve in 1998. Greg was a volunteer when he completed his recruit and infantry courses and commenced his career as a Rifleman with 5/6 Royal Victorian Regiment here in Melbourne.  Greg was a volunteer when, after completing 5 months of build-up training in Darwin, deployed with 5/7 Royal Australian Regiment to East Timor for over six months in 2002 & 2003.  Greg was a volunteer when, after earning the Australian Active Service Medal, the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor Medal and the Infantry Combat Badge, set his determined sights on a path that would ultimately lead him to obtaining a green beret as a qualified Commando within Australian Special Operations Command. 

Greg was a volunteer when he looked east out over the suburbs of Melbourne to the Dandenongs and saw, in the fire access track that splits the mountain, a suitable training ground.  Greg was a volunteer, when early on any cold and wet weekend morning, when others were enjoying a warm coffee and hot breakfast at home, he was moving his little (but very strong) legs up and down the “thousand steps” or the “fire access track”, pausing only to re-tape his bloodied feet, motivate his fellow soldiers to keep going or quietly add more weight to his own pack. You see, for close to six months, Greg volunteered to put himself through enormous physical and mental hardship just to make sure that on the day he showed up for his commando selection course he was physically and mentally ready.  And ready he was.  Greg passed the gruelling commando selection and training course in 2004, going on to obtain a whole suite of commando and special forces qualifications.  As a very humble man he was not one to boast about his skills.  But just some of the courses that Greg volunteered for and completed included: the infantry reconnaissance course; commando urban operations course; advanced close quarter battle course; commando amphibious operations; close quarter fighting course; special forces roping; special forces heavy weapons course; military driving; special forces demolitions; the combat first aid course; and his military parachute course, (to name but a few). For each of these Greg was a volunteer. For each of these Greg stood out amongst his peers.

But, for us in his unit, you need to know that Greg meant so much more than his many operational and special forces accomplishments.  Greg was selected to serve within special forces because he had the attributes we were looking for and few have; attributes such as toughness, resolve and intelligence.  But for Greg, one attribute stood out amongst all others, and it was his “compassion”.  It is in this regard that Greg best personified the special forces soldier – the unique combination of the best team player who is still in so many ways an individual.  Greg’s compassion as an individual came out in many ways.  One of those was in his justification for why he was a soldier.  He saw his role as a soldier being to help those that he loved and to do his part to make the world a better place.

Greg was, as many soldiers have said to me this week, a truly rare and inspirational person. I know for me, whenever I saw Greg I felt like a whole room just lit up and I wanted to talk to him about everything.  He was a well-read man who would enjoy a considered and meaningful discussion on any world issue.  Last night I asked those soldiers closest to Greg what he wanted to talk about most when on gun piquet in the middle of the night.  They said “Nothing. Because he would rather listen to you.”  He would become so genuinely engrossed in what was important to you, what your dreams were and, when you were finished; say how “awesome” it was.  Even if he had just heard the biggest load of rubbish, he would still find what you had to say interesting.  He would still find what you had to say important.  He would then tell you something about you that he really liked and in a way that you knew was heartfelt.  He cared about other people and he made you feel good. For his compassion we went beyond just respecting him.  We loved him for it. 

Another attribute Greg had in abundance was his determination to constantly improve.  Even during the worst of days, when any other soldier would feel beaten and be tempted to give up, Greg’s resolve and strength was unwavering. He would say to his friends “When it’s really bad.  I take it all in; I step back; regroup… and I come back stronger.”  Whether it was mastering a new amphibious craft, honing his weapon change over drills, improving his fitness or learning how to improve new medical skills, he always sought to better himself. Greg always came back stronger.

And his motivation for improvement was not one of competition but instead reflected his desire to better serve his team-mates.  Greg did not want to let anyone down.  And he never did.

Over time we will learn more about how Greg had an infectious laugh, how important his Jewish faith was to him and how determined and driven he was.  But before we present Greg with his medals for his service in Afghanistan, please indulge us for a moment more.   Greg’s brothers will be very aware of a very short but moving poem that Greg used to motivate himself when times were hard or he felt down. He often had a copy on him, knew it off by heart and spoke about it regularly.  I understand it will be shared with everyone on Sunday, but because it meant so much to him, I think he would like us to hear it twice.

It is called Invictus (Latin for “Unconquered”) and it is by William Earnest Henley, who wrote it from his hospital bed:

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

       My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

      I am the captain of my soul.

Greg, previous generations once bestowed the label of the “Greatest Living Australian” to a Jewish soldier from Melbourne called John Monash who, like you, began his military career as a reservist in the Victorian Militia and, like you, volunteered for everything he could and, like you, never stopped trying to improve himself and, in doing so, stood out amongst all others.

Greg, we know that our generation’s place in the story that is Australia is still being written.  We know that it is being written in the jungles of East Timor and, as we speak here today, by our closest mates in the snow-covered caves of Afghanistan.  We don’t know what the final story of this generation will be, but we do know that on a rock in Williamstown, on the war memorial in Canberra, in our history books and in our hearts, there will be several chapters devoted to a young Jewish man who, at this time in Australia’s history, stood up and said “I am Greg Sher and I am ready to serve”. 

Greg, from that day in 1986, when you, with your brothers and your parents, first volunteered to journey so far and become Australian, you have volunteered every day since. You have made Australia and this world a better place. You have demonstrated to all of us what it really means to be the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. We are all so much better for knowing and loving you. We salute you my friend and we will never forget you.

Advertisements