Drawing fire earns Victoria Cross

Corporal Daniel Keighran is awarded a Victoria Cross by Australia Governor General Quentin Bryce.
Corporal Daniel Keighran is awarded a Victoria Cross by Australia Governor General Quentin Bryce.

Corporal Daniel Keighran has received Australia's highest military honour.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce presented Corporal Keighran with the Victoria Cross medal at a ceremony at Government House in Canberra.

The audience was told how Corporal Keighran, in "deliberate acts of exceptional courage" repeatedly exposed himself to intense enemy fire during action in Oruzgan.

In presenting the award, Bryce told the soldier :"I've been thinking about you a lot".

According to the citation, on August 2010, Corporal Keighran was on a fighting patrol with Afghan forces.

The group was engaged in a "prolonged, numerically superior" enemy attack from multiple points.

"With complete disregard for his own safety", Corporal Keighran broke cover on multiple occasions to draw intense and accurate enemy fire to identify enemy locations.

When a member of his patrol sustained a casualty, of his own initiative, he again broke cover to draw fire away from the team who were helping the injured soldier.

Corporal Jared MacKinney was killed in the action on August 24.

The citation also said that Corporal Keighran's actions were "instrumental in permitting the withdrawal of the combined Australian and Afghan patrol with no further casualties".

Bryce described Corporal Keighran, who attended the ceremony with his wife Kathryn, as a man of profound physical and moral strength.

"A man selfless in the face of threat, courageous in the face of terror, generous in the face of suffering and humble in the face of an honour bestowed,"  she said.

Bryce said there were other heroes on that day in August 2010, but that what Corporal Keighran did was different.

"Acknowledging it here now does not diminish the efforts and sacrifices of those who fought beside you," she said.

''They need you to be here."

Corporal Keighran enlisted in the Australian Army in 2000 and was posted to the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in 2001, where he served as a rifleman. He moved to the Active Reserve last year.

He is the third Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for service in Afghanistan.

Corporal Mark Donaldson was awarded the honour in 2009, followed by Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith in 2011.

Four soldiers were awarded the honour in the Vietnam War.

The award was presented in front of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Defence Minister Stephen Smith as well as senior military personnel, including Chief of the Defence Force David Hurley.

Gillard said Corporal Keighran had shown his preparedness to lay down his life for his friends.

''They were spectacular acts of bravery where in the moment you did not put your personal safety first but you put that Anzac tradition of mateship first. That's why we are honouring you today,'' she said.

Abbott said Corporal Keighran joined ''a remarkable elite: the best of the best, and the bravest of the brave''.

''Those of us who have relatively safe lives are in awe of those who don't,'' he said.

Official Secretary to the Governor-General Stephen Brady was impressed that the soldier's name had not been leaked.

"It's not often in this town that a secret holds," he said.

Only 99 Australians have ever been awarded the Victoria Cross.

According to the Department of Defence, the Victoria Cross is ''awarded to persons who, in the presence of the enemy, display the most conspicuous gallantry; a daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice; or extreme devotion to duty'".

Queen Victoria created the Victoria Cross in 1856, which was made retrospective to 1854 to cover the period of the Crimean War.

Australia came under the British system until 1991, when the Victoria Cross for Australia was created.

- AAP and Sydney Morning Herald