RILEY TINNING’S Anzac Day on Tuesday will be the real deal.
A trooper with the 1st Armoured Regiment – the senior regiment of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps – the Tongala local is right now on deployment in Iraq.
Stationed at Camp Taji, 30km from Baghdad, he is in the crew of Bushmaster providing mobile security for the army’s training teams working with the Iraqi army as it rebuilds.
His vehicle fits up to nine soldiers/trainers in an armour plated cocoon strong enough to deflect machinegun fire, mortar fragments and, most crucially in the Middle East, to protect against mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
The Bushmaster’s v-hull monocoque design deflects the blast of mines away from the vehicle and its occupants, making it understandably popular with its crews.
So for Trooper Tinning and his armoured cavalry comrades, April 25 will still be a partly traditional occasion, but depending on duties could also literally put him and the rest of his troop in a desperate firefight.
There will be the traditional Dawn Service, and most likely some two up as well. And it will certainly seem like Australia, the weather in Iraq is currently nudging into the mid and high 30s as its summer approaches.
Whatever the service it will be held inside the heavily fortified compound on the base, one of the very few places the Australians can consider themselves almost safe.
But it could always be worse.
“Some days it can be highly relaxed, while others are very hot and stressful, depending on the job for the day and its location.
“If the training team is shorthanded, they call on me to help out and I am convinced the training we’re providing Iraqi soldiers is very important.
“It’s improving their combat capabilities and giving them medical knowledge to save lives in combat situations.
“We are determined to help them defeat ISIS and to peacefully unify their country.”
Riley makes no bones that the work he and the rest of the Australians are doing in Iraq is making a difference, a positive difference.
“Serving my country this way gives me a feeling of great pride and honour.”
Camp Taji is in the heart of the volatile Sunni Triangle, a stronghold for Saddam Hussein and, since the 2003 Coalition invasion, a hotbed of jihadi opposition to the western forces.
It was also a centre for the production of chemical weapons – the UN forces found thousands of 122mm rocket shells ready to be armed when they captured the site.
But taking a phone call from home gave this soldier bigger fish to fry.
“We are well protected here, but the rooms are quite small. Two people living in a smallish area can get pretty cramped,” he said.
“And I think of home every day.
‘‘The time away from loved ones is extremely tough.
“And my mum’s cooking, that’s something I really miss – I just can’t wait to have it again. Seeing all my loved ones again will be a sweet moment.”
And Riley already has another part of that homecoming planned – hoping his beloved Tongala football club has built some momentum following its flogging at the hands of reigning premier Nathalia at the weekend.
But most of all he is “really looking forward to catching up with family – and my mates for some beers”.
Riley joined the army in 2012 after encouragement from a teacher at Kyabram P-12 College – advice he now sees as being invaluable.
“I never thought I’d be fighting to help secure a country, I always thought I would have a normal job in Tongala – I feel I’ve flown pretty high,” he said.
“The military is a great career. We’re well paid, it’s challenging work and the camaraderie is like nothing else.”
Riley expected to be rotated from his first deployment in two months – plenty of time to check out Tonny’s performance in the Murray Football League – and said he’s keen to return to a more normal life.
“No one hopes to come back here because we want it to become a safe, united and independent country, but I would gladly return if we were still needed to help achieve that.”