Anzac spirit and banter to fore on duty in Iraq

By Max Blenkin

Gavin Keating.
Gavin Keating.

Australian army Colonel Gavin Keating faced a curious quandary as he prepared to depart for Iraq - what about the rugby?

As the impending commander of 300 Australians and 100 New Zealanders, he concluded the best outcome of the Rugby World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand would be a draw.

"Next best thing was for the Kiwis to win as they take it much more seriously than we do and we could have a force protection issue from a very unhappy bunch of Kiwis," he joked with reporters.

As it turned out the All Blacks beat the Wallabies 34-17 in the match played just before the Australian contingent departed for the Middle East.

Much is made of the Anzac tradition and the closeness of the transtasman relationship but it isn't put into practice that often. Most recently in Afghanistan, Australian and New Zealand troops served in different areas.

In Iraq the contingent is fully integrated at every level and, the commanders say, harmonious.

The deputy commander and chief of staff is a New Zealand army officer who, under New Zealand government policy, can't be identified.

"A lot of us don't even think that we are Kiwis or Aussies. We relate more to being members of Task Group Taji," he said.

"That means we can get the best out of all 400 of us."

Colonel Keating said there was a friendly rivalry which was a positive for keeping people on their toes and getting the best from everyone.

Training team commander Australian Lieutenant Colonel Jim Hammett said they had gone past all the jokes about accents, sheep and sport.

"We have made the comment among ourselves a couple of times that it's almost a shame we wear different uniforms," he said.

- AAP

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