CDF statement - Death of Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe
20 February 2011
CDF AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON:
Very sadly, overnight, an Australian soldier serving with the Mentoring Task Force – Two in Afghanistan was killed in action. An Afghan local national, employed as an interpreter, was also killed. Both our soldier and the interpreter were struck by gunshots and despite immediate first aid, were unable to be saved.
At the time of the engagement, as part of Operation GEELONG, MTF-2 was undertaking an un-partnered patrol in an area to the South-East of Patrol Base Wali, aiming to extend our influence in the Mirabad Region where we are building a new patrol base.
The patrol was dismounted from their Bushmaster vehicles and stationary at the time of, what appears to have been, a coordinated insurgent attack, employing both machine gun and small-arms fire. The other soldiers on the patrol were able to repel the attack, provide immediate first aid and call for a medivac, which responded promptly. Unfortunately, the soldier and interpreter showed no signs of life despite best efforts.
The family of the soldier has been notified, and though they are obviously very distraught, they have agreed to the release of his name.
Sapper Jamie Ronald Larcombe was 21 years old and from the Darwin based 1stCombat Engineer Regiment. He had just passed the third anniversary of his enlistment into the Army, which was on the 18th of February. In that time, Jamie had also served on Operation Padang Assist and this was his first tour to Afghanistan.
Sapper Larcombe is survived by his parents, three younger sisters and his girlfriend. They are a very close family, and can be very proud of Jamie. Within his regiment, he was recognised as genuine and dependable—a real team player and someone you could rely on. He was a quiet achiever who worked hard and was focused on getting the job done—I am told this was a real reflection of his country upbringing. He was also a loyal friend who had a good sense of humour, but wasn’t interested in being the centre of attention. Like his mates still in Afghanistan, he was courageous and professional. Our nation should mourn the loss of this fine young Australian.
The Army and the Defence Community Organisation will provide Sapper Larcombe's family with compassionate support—and will continue to do so in the difficult days and weeks ahead.
Though nothing compares to the grief of the Larcombe family today, I also want to acknowledge that this is another very hard day for the Australian Army—this is the 23rdsoldier they have lost on this operation and the fifth Combat Engineer.
And it is a most difficult day for the members of the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment who are deployed in Afghanistan. Sapper Jamie Larcombe is from the same Regiment as Corporal Richard Atkinson, who was killed earlier this month. They have lost two of their mates in a very short period of time. The unit are doing it tough, but I have great faith in their professionalism, their determination and their ability to support each other as they focus on their mission and also return their fallen mate home to his family.
Finally, on behalf of all the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, I also offer my condolences to the family of the Afghan interpreter. At great risk to themselves and their families, these locals advise and support our deployed forces in achieving our mission. They are vital to our success. The interpreter is being returned to his family so that he can be buried according to local custom.
I will now take your questions.
QUESTION: CDF, I wonder if you could describe the terrain of the ambush, the estimated strength of the insurgent force and the time of the ambush, please?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, the contact, the troops in contact incident took place last night Canberra time around 10:30. In terms of the insurgent force I'm not across that detail at the moment but the action took place in the upper reaches of the Charmestan Valley, fairly rugged terrain and they were in a reasonably high position. In terms of other detail you must be aware that operations are ongoing and I'm not prepared to get into the size of our force and the other aspects of disposition. It's vital that we maintain our operational security for the safety of everybody else who's out there at the moment on this fairly large operation.
QUESTION: Are you able to say, CDF, if you are aware whether anyone on the enemy side was hurt or killed in this battle?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: At this stage, you know, our focus has been totally on recovering our fallen and I haven't worried too much about that detail at this stage. But suffice it to say whenever anything like this happens we do a quick assessment in the first instance. I'll have that to hand within the next 24 hours, I'll have a much better idea of just what happened on this engagement and of course in the fullness of time we'll do a forensic investigation of all circumstances surrounding the loss of this fine young soldier.
QUESTION: Also, how long had Sapper Larcombe been in Afghanistan?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: How long has he been a sapper?
QUESTION: No, how long had he been on this tour?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: He deployed in September, so he'd been ? he was about halfway through his tour.
QUESTION: CDF, was he wearing protective armour?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: I would imagine so but again I need the detailed reporting to be able to respond to you in a fulsome way and I prefer to wait for that before we speculate about yeah, he probably had armour on. I'm almost certain he'd have armour on but I don't know.
QUESTION: CDF, this has been, I think, the 12th death in a period of 8 months in Afghanistan, what do you put that down to? Is it that the enemy's getting stronger or have we had a run of bad luck or a combination?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, I think if you go back to when we lost I think nine of those people, that was during the height of the fighting season and that also included the loss of three in a very tragic helicopter accident. Since September we lost Lance Corporal MacKinney in September, we lost Corporal Atkinson two weeks ago and now we've lost Sapper Larcombe. So really we're talking about three since September. We have made, I think, very good progress in Oruzgan during that period. We've extended our influence into other areas and obviously when I say 'we' I'm talking about we and the Afghans because our mission there is to support the Afghan National Army, to mentor them and assist them with establishing a very robust security presence in the province for the long haul. That's all been going very, very well and we're into areas ? extending our influence into areas that we've never been before. So to some extent when you do that you are going to come up against insurgent forces that will resist the extension of that influence and from time to time there will be troops in contact, there will be engagements and there will be IED attacks. So that's the nature of the environment that we're in and we do everything possible to mitigate those risks. Our people are very well trained, very professional, but from time to time there will be casualties.
QUESTION: CDF, can you give us any insight into just how this happened? Was this group of insurgents laying in wait for an Australian patrol in this region or was this coordinated in some way?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: It's far too early to draw any conclusions. I know you and the media like me to be able to respond immediately and say it was this, this, this and this but until I have all of the operational reporting I'm not in a position to draw any conclusions, nor would I. It's vitally important that I have a look at all the material before those sorts of conclusions are drawn. But suffice it to say our people were engaged by insurgents and unfortunately we've lost a very fine young Australian soldier and a very good Afghan interpreter.
QUESTION: You said Sapper Larcombe had a country upbringing, can you say from whereabouts he was from in Australia?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: He comes from South Australia.
QUESTION: CDF, is it common for combat engineers to go out on fighting patrols?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: Engineers ? we are ? we work under what you might call a combined arms team. Our patrols go out with everything they need to do the job. The old days of the infantry going on their own or the engineers going on their own are gone for good. We have fully integrated, combined arms teams and that's the way we operate in Afghanistan and indeed it's the way we operate more generally.
QUESTION: You said it's the second casualty for the Darwin unit after Corporal Atkinson's death, how are they holding up?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, I think they're holding up very, very well and we saw evidence of that at the memorial service for Corporal Atkinson last week, almost one week ago, and I engaged a couple of the young soldiers and their resolve was very, very strong. They wanted to go back, be with their mates and work hard to prevail in the environment that they're operating in at the moment. So their morale is high. Obviously this loss will be felt very much by the unit but they're good Australian soldiers and they will pull together, they will mourn together and they will come out and fight together and they will fight together very professionally and very effectively. I'll take one more question, thanks.
QUESTION: CDF, what was the timeframe, can you run through, between the incident and the other soldiers being able to reach Jamie and the medical assistance?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well the reporting that I've got is that the assistance was provided almost immediately and they called in a medivac. The medivac helicopter came in very quickly and Jamie and the Afghan interpreter were back in Tarin Kot in less than an hour which is very, very good in the circumstances.
Media contact: Defence Media Operations 02 6127 1999 or 0408 498 66
 Sapper Larcombe deployed to Afghanistan in October, 2010.
 Please note Lance Corporal MacKinney was killed in action on August 24.