ACT News

Australia Day 2016: Meet Major General Craig Orme, the soldier who closed down Tarin Kowt

Major General Craig Orme [retired] saw the birth and death of Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan as a major Australian military base.

The former Iran-Iraq war United Nations peacekeeper first set eyes on the place in early 2006.

Craig Orme and his wife Theresa at home in Yarralumla.
Craig Orme and his wife Theresa at home in Yarralumla. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"It was almost a greenfield site," he said. "The Dutch had just moved in and we were setting up the first reconstruction task force."

Seven years later, in September 2013, the Australian Defence Force sent him back to draw the curtains and turn off the lights.

Craig Orme and his wife Theresa on their wedding day.
Craig Orme and his wife Theresa on their wedding day. Photo: Rohan Thomson

General Orme has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the 2016 Australia Day awards for his work in in winding up Australian operations in Tarin Kowt and Kandahar and repositioning the ADF joint task force for involvement in Iraq.

He is a member of the Order of Australia and has previously been awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross.


Asked if, given recent reverses in Uruzgan, Australia's involvement had been worth it, General Orme said that judgement was not his to make.

"As a soldier your focus is on the mission and how well you have executed that mission," he said.

"My [specific] mission was to get us out [of Tarin Kowt]. I would like to think we did that professionally and effectively. The absence of issues [with the withdrawal] was not a reflection of an absence of risk and complexity."

A case in point was a visit to the base by 52 members of the families of fallen soldiers shortly before the end.

"We had people ranging in age from their seventies to quite young," he said. "The Taliban were still in town and TK was not a secure environment. We weren't taking any chances and had a whole range of surveillance over head.

"These people were able to come almost within cooee of where their sons, husbands and brothers had been killed. The effects were profound for each of them."

General Orme is now settling into his second year as the deputy president of the Department of Veterans' Affair's Repatriation Commission.

He said soldiers were a breed apart; the one group in the community who can be ordered to kill or be killed, and said his new role was an extension of the old.

"You've made a very special commitment to society and society, in turn, has made a commitment to you," he said.

"That is why veterans receive special consideration beyond that given to other citizens."

General Orme, who described his journey with the army as remarkable, said it would not have been possible without the support of a young girl he met at an 18th birthday party shortly after starting at Duntroon in September, 1978.

Her name was Theresa and the couple have now been married for 34 years.

"I was commissioned on the Tuesday and we got married on the Friday," he said. "Two of the most important events in my life happened in the same week."