ADF reviews risk and safety after second defence training death

Soldier Jason Challis was killed on Wednesday afternoon in the Mount Bundey Training Area, near Darwin.

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In a statement, the Defence Department said he was “taking part in a routine training activity”.

It’s believed he was shot during a live fire exercise, where soldiers fire real ammunituion at targets, buildings and empty areas.

Northern Territory Labor politician and former infantry soldier Luke Gosling says it was a tragic incident.

“This young Australian soldier received a gunshot wound to the head. The combat medics and his mates around him tried valiantly and conducted great first aid on him and got him to the Royal Darwin Hospital where the teams were just unable to bring him back.”

The Army has suspended training activities for its three combat brigades across Australia as it reviews risk assessment procedures and safety measures.

The Defence community says it’s an appropriate move but it shouldn’t lead to a permanent ban on live fire exercises.

Live firing exercises have been happening in Australia for decades and occur frequently for soldiers in combat roles.

Some special forces soldiers go through periods of doing them on a daily basis.

The Australia Defence Asssociation’s Neil James says it forms a vital part of training.

“The safety procedures and protocols the Army has are particularly good because they’ve been doing it a particularly long time. The bottom line here is you train as you fight and there’s no point having completely safe training because then you’ll have higher casualties in combat. You always have to strike a balance.”

Mr Gosling says the death warrants a close look at live fire training.

“The investigative teams will get to the bottom of that and make recommendations so we can mitigate those risks more. I do point out though that this training is inherently dangerous. It involves soldiers moving and firing weapons.”

Northern Territory police are investigating the death and will prepare a report for the Coroner.

The Mount Bundey Training Area has been used by Defence since 1992.

Before that, it was grazing land.

It’s now used by the Australian Defence Force, the United States Marine Corps and Singapore’s military for training.

In 2004, a soldier died there from heat stroke but Defence has been facing more recent tragedies.

In 2009, a commando was killed in a live fire exercise in South Australia which led to a $200,000 fine to the Defence Department.

On Thursday last week, a soldier was killed when he was hit by a tree branch while training in Queensland.