COME HOME SAFE
By DAVID BANCROFT
IN scratchy handwriting, six-year-old Martin Macdonald wrote in his school diary that when he grew up, he wanted to be in the army.
Seventeen years on, the former South Grafton resident is living out his dream, and next month will head to Iraq as part of a contingent of 450 Australian troops sent to protect Japanese engineers helping to rebuild schools, roads and bridges in the country's south, towards the border with Saudi Arabia.
According to his mother, Wendy Macdonald, he could not be happier, despite heading to a war-torn country in unfamiliar conditions.
"After all, this is what all his training and hard work is all about," she said.
Martin is scheduled to be in Iraq for a six-month deployment and is likely to be away from the main hot spots of insurgency and terrorism, but it remains a deployment that has his family worried.
"As a mother, I am a little anxious but am trying to look at Martin's deployment to Iraq as just another day he's at work," Mrs Macdonald said.
"Martin has been highly trained by the army as a rifleman and tank commander and the army provides all the equipment necessary for Martin to protect himself and others. "It also keeps the families of deployed soldiers informed at all times with newsletters, pre-deployment information packs and support group contacts."
Iraq will be Martin's second overseas deployment ? he spent six months in East Timor in 2003 ? and is the culmination of a childhood ambition to be in the armed services. Every Tuesday night during high school he would attend the Grafton Army drill hall as a cadet and, according to Mrs Macdonald, never faltered in his ambition.
"School was not for Martin, he really only went there for the friendships, sport and PE," she said.
"He was born with the adventurous vein.
"He wasn't interested in learning the subjects. As a result he achieved his school certificate, but not the grades that he needed to get into the army.
"So he worked casually as a labourer, went to TAFE and finally obtained the necessary grades.
"Every time he came up against a stumbling block in his pursuit of an army career, he applied himself and overcame the obstacles.
"Following the graduation at Kapooka, no-one was more proud of Martin than Martin himself, although his father and I came in a very close second.
"As a family, we are all really proud of Martin and what he has achieved not only as a soldier but in his own personal development. I am thankful to the army for the finishing touches that changed my son from a teenager with a dream to a man who is living that dream."