Up to 3000 Australian soldiers could be stripped of accolades amid the fallout from a horrific Afghan war crimes report released on Thursday.
The report found evidence of 39 murders by Australian special forces, recommending 19 troops be investigated by the Australian Federal Police.
It uncovered evidence senior troops pressured juniors to murder Afghan civilians and achieve their first kill as part of a perverse initiation ritual called "blooding".
Australia's Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, received the report two weeks ago and said it made her feel "physically ill".
"It was a very, very distressing read," she said. "It certainly does not represent the service of the majority of men and women who serve our nation with such great distinction.
"It is distressing for everybody who had or still does wear the uniform.
"But if you look at it the other way, we have faced up to this. It doesn't represent our values as a nation. It doesn't represent the values of the Australian Defence Force, and we have to tackle it.
"But to tackle it, we have to be transparent and honest, which is what the Chief of Defence Force did yesterday."
A review has been launched into all individual accolades awarded in Afghanistan, with decisions to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Up to 3000 Australian soldiers who served with the Special Forces in Afghanistan could now lose awards, a move the Defence Force Chief, General Angus Campbell, conceded would be a "hard blow".
"It will be done thoroughly. We've got to make sure that whatever we do, we treat people respectfully, we follow the processes, and we deal with it," he told ABC Radio.
"This isn't about ignoring it or avoiding it. It's about making sure we cause no more damage or distress that might otherwise emerge in a very, very difficult situation. But we are determined to deal with it."
A Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to the Special Operations Task Group for "sustained and outstanding service" has been revoked.
Campbell says the horrifying details revealed in the Brereton Report speak to a "collective responsibility" and a "disgraceful and a profound betrayal of the Australian Defence Force's professional standards and expectations".
He said stripping accolades for the unit as a whole was appropriate.
"People understand why it is necessary. These unit citations are quite rarely given, and they're given for the most meritorious of service," he said.
"With so many allegations and so many people coming forward to the inquiry, it is difficult to see any way that a claim to maintain that citation can be sustained."
Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester conceded Thursday was a "very dark day" but said the accused soldiers deserved the presumption of innocence.
The allegations should not cloud the good work done by the vast majority of the nation's servicemen and women, he said.
"We want to be careful as Australians today that we don't all lead to judgment. That we actually get a message to our serving men and women that we have their backs because they have had our backs," he told the ABC.
Campbell will have his own Distinguished Service Cross reviewed.
He said he personally "did not see" evidence of war crimes when serving in the Middle East, but accepted "there is a responsibility to know, to be curious, to understand what is going on in your organisation".
"That's the issue that is most painful for those who were in the senior command roles," he said.
"What I saw, what I didn't connect, what I perhaps walked past. I did not see these things, but I'm left wondering what did I miss and what could have been done otherwise?"
Although the report largely exonerated the upper echelons of the ADF, former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said responsibility went to the top.
"These people were put in the most difficult of circumstances. They were fighting a war against an enemy which plays to no rules," Fitzgibbon said.
"There is no excuse for the alleged actions, absolutely not, and they will pay a very heavy price for their alleged acts.
"But I think people right up the chain of command, in the Committee of National Security and the Cabinet, all have to take some responsibility about what we are seeing playing out here."