With a mournful skirl of the bagpipes and the muffled beat of a drum, Private Nathan Bewes – “a warrior with a true heart” – was returned to his family.
The 23-year-old rifleman was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province on July 9.
He was the 17th Australian soldier to be killed in action in Afghanistan.
His flag-draped coffin was followed down the ramp of the C17 Globemaster that flew him home by three of his closest mates, wearing the desert camouflage they wore into battle.
The moving ramp ceremony at RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, was attended by Pte Bewes’ parents, Gary and Kay, his sister Stephanie and his girlfriend Alice.
Commander of the 7th Brigade, Brigadier Paul McLachlan, promised his family and comrades his sacrifice would not be forgotten.
“Nathan Bewes was a warrior with a true heart and a sense of humour,” he said.
“He was a lead scout in his section. The scout leads the way for the rest of the patrol, he selects the path forward, he is the spear tip that protects the main body of the section.
“He takes more risks on behalf of those who follow behind him so they may remain safe.
“We only put our best out front. It takes courage, talent and experience and more importantly it takes the trust of the rest of your mates that you can do the job for them.
“Nathan Bewes had all these characteristics in spades – he knew how dangerous his job was and yet he continued to go outside the wire day after day with a smile on his face because he was looking after his mates and he knew no one could do it as well as he could.”
Brig McLachlan said in an era when the quality of Gen Y is often questioned, the sacrifice of Pte Bewes shows the quality of young Australians and the country’s young soldiers is as good as it has ever been.
“He deserves a place alongside his Anzac forebears for his courage, his selflessness and his commitment,” Brig McLachlan said.
A memorial service will be held at Enoggera on Friday but details of the funeral for Pte Bewes, who came from Murwillumbah in northern NSW, have not yet been announced.
Thursday’s ramp ceremony was also attended by Defence Minister John Faulkner, Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, and Acting Chief of Army Major General Paul Symon.