Teachers speak highly of wounded ex-student

BROOKE GARDINER
Last updated 05:00 31/08/2012

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Teachers of former Wakatipu High School pupil Curtis McGrath, who is believed to have been seriously wounded while serving with the Australian Army in Afghanistan, were shocked to hear the news.

Four Australian soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in Uruzgan province last week when an improvised explosive device detonated during operations with the Afghan National Security Force.

The Southland Times understands the most seriously wounded was Mr McGrath, 24, a combat engineer, who is understood to have lost both his legs in the explosion. He was flown to Kandahar before being transferred to a hospital in Germany.

A friend of Mr McGrath told the Southland Times the soldier's Brisbane-based family had flown to Germany to be with him and hoped to be able to bring him back to Australia this weekend.

"It's a miracle he is alive. He is in good spirits, well and truly alive, and will be transferred to Brisbane this weekend, all going well."

The friend believed Mr McGrath had endangered himself to protect other members of his unit.

Outdoor education teacher Ken McIntyre, who taught Mr McGrath in years 12 and 13, said he was shocked to learn his former pupil had been seriously wounded but said he wouldn't be surprised if he had acted heroically.

Mr McGrath had been awarded the school's Bruce Grant Memorial Trophy for Outdoor Education, presented to a student who displays honesty and integrity in the outdoors.

He would be the type of person to willingly help others, said Mr McIntyre.

The trophy isn't necessarily given to the best kayaker, tramper or climber, but to an all-rounder - "it's more about being organised, safe, there for others and adventurous".

Recalling an incident in the Rockburn Valley when one of his year 13 pupils went missing on a tramping expedition, he said Mr McGrath was first to offer help.

Traversing challenging terrain, Curtis and another classmate scaled down from a ridge to the river and back again, calling out to the missing tramper while Mr McIntyre climbed up to a peak where he knew there was cell coverage.

"We're talking about something that normally takes two hours to get down. It's hard, it's really hard. They were down and back in 40 minutes. I couldn't bloody believe it: they were fit."

The pupil was eventually found safe and well.

Former tutor teacher Wendy Perkins said she, too, was shocked to hear the news. She remembered him as a friendly student, and was thinking of a man him and his family.

The Australian Defence Department declined to comment on the incident and would not disclose any personal details of soldiers wounded during operations, citing privacy.

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brooke.gardiner@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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