Dead soldier veteran of Afghan conflict

Lance Corporal Edwards, 30, was shot in the head during live-firing practice at Cultana military base near Port Augusta in South Australia on Tuesday night.

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Edwards, from Sydney, was a member of the army’s second commando regiment. He was preparing for his third deployment to Afghanistan.

Another soldier, who has not been named but is a member of the special forces, was seriously injured in the incident. He has been taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where he is said to be in a stable condition.

The Australian Defence Department says an investigation into the incident is under way, but that it is too early to reveal what went wrong.

‘Tragic accident’

Army chief Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie said it was “clearly a very tragic accident”, but insisted such exercises saved lives during operations in the field.

“It also serves to remind us of the extremely dangerous job undertaken by our serving personnel.”

Lance Corporal Edwards’ fellow soldiers did everything they could to “save their mate”.

“This is a very sad day for the army and our thoughts are with Mason’s family,” Lt Gen Gillespie said.

Lt Gen Gillespie paid tribute to Lance Corporal Edwards, describing him as a fine soldier who was proud to be an Australian.

“I know for a fact that Mason was a committed and determined soldier,” he said, adding he was tremendously proud of his service and his mates.

“And I can tell you that he considered himself lucky to live in this great country, and to have the love and support of his family and partner.”

Police investigation

Air Chief Marshal Houston offered his deepest sympathies to the family of the dead soldier and promised defence would take very good care of the injured soldier.

“To the other members of the unit as they are preparing to deploy, I encourage them to be there for each other as they deal with this loss,” he said.

“They are tight-knit unit who have been working very hard to be the best they can be.

“This will be tough but they will be provided with support and I am sure will draw strength from each other.”

Defence Minister John Faulkner said the accident highlighted the dangerous work performed by Australian special forces soldiers.

“On behalf of the government I want to offer my very sincere condolences to the families concerned, particularly of course the family of the soldier that has died,” he told a Senate estimates committee hearing in Canberra.

South Australia police will head the investigation, supported by the Australian Defence Force’s Investigative Service unit.