‘Numb’: Voodoo Medics - Part 4
DAN PRONK slumped against his medical kit on the tarmac.
He watched as the ambulance whisked the wounded soldier away to hospital.
In the dust and hellfire of battle and then during the hectic 25-minute chopper ride back to base, Pronk thought of nothing but trying to stem the bleeding from the hole in Sapper Rowan Robinson's neck and to keep his heart pumping.
Robinson was now in the hands of surgeons. There was nothing more Pronk could do.
Nothing but think.
"I just felt numb. I didn't know how to feel," said Major Pronk, one of the few doctors among Voodoo Medics.
"I think at that point I knew that Rowan's injuries were unsurvivable and I knew that it was inevitable that we were going to be having another ramp ceremony."
A ramp ceremony is the name of the farewell troops in the field give to fallen comrades.
The moment offers a rare insight into the emotional toll faced by the medics who serve beside the special forces of Australia's Special Operations Command.
Robinson was one of three members of the Special Operations Task Group killed in action in Afghanistan within weeks of each other.
Sergeant Brett Wood died from an improvised explosive device blast on May 23, Robinson was killed by a Taliban sniper on June 6 and Sgt Todd Langley was shot dead on July 4.
Each time, Pronk was there.
"Three in a six week period, so in pretty quick succession," he said.
"All of which I knew and all of which I was with on the ground when they were killed.
"Brett was the first time that I'd responded to a mate of mine in a fairly dire situation.
"He was horribly injured. We couldn't save him sadly so it really hit home that we were playing for keeps."
Langley - an experienced and decorated shooter - was killed during "heroic actions" when he was exposed to the enemy as he organised covering fire for a wounded soldier to be evacuated, Pronk said.
Each of the deaths are etched into Pronk's memory as he concedes they have played on his mind.
"I think it's normal for all of us to second guess your response," he said.
"Certainly for me it took a long time to rationalise in my mind that I had done the best job that I possibly could in all of those situations to deal with the injuries and just got beaten by those injuries on the day."
His thoughts turn to those men on the anniversary of their deaths, including that moment on the tarmac as he tried to save Robinson.
"The nature of his injuries told me that he was exposed and he was facing the enemy and he was fighting alongside his mates when he was killed," he said.
"I didn't know the guy well but I know that about him, that he was fighting.
"He went down fighting."