MILITARY MEDAL: Reverend Richard Brown completed two tours of Vietnam and became an Army chaplain.
MILITARY MEDAL: Reverend Richard Brown completed two tours of Vietnam and became an Army chaplain. Cathy Adams

Chaplain walked the talk

THE decision to introduce conscription during the Vietnam War has gained a historical reputation as misguided.

But for one Ballina veteran, it's a policy he can fairly say provided him with a memorable 44-year career in the Army.

Former soldier turned military chaplain, the Reverend Richard "Shortie" Brown, always wanted to enlist but was too short.

When he tried to enrol in an Army apprenticeship at 15, his 151cm height saw him knocked back. The minimum height regulation (since abolished) was six centimetres higher, 157cm, or five feet two inches.

Thanks to the National Service lottery, five years later in 1965 - after he had given up on the idea of an Army career - his number came up.

This time around he was prepared.

He got through the initial medical by telling the doctor he was 157cm, and then sported a pair of high-heel riding boots on the day he was ordered to report for duty - the kind deep enough (and high enough) to lock right into the stirrups with.

Twelve months later he was in Vietnam, and can thank his short stature for saving his life.

"If I was any taller I wouldn't be here today," he said.

"In my first tour I had my hat shot off."

He was soon made a corporal, in charge of nine other men in the field as a section commander.

During his second tour in 1969, his section got caught in an extremely dangerous situation, accidentally walking straight into an entire company of enemy soldiers in bunkers just 25m away.

The 25-year-old helped his men hold their nerve under heavy fire during a nail-biting 15 minute withdrawal during which all but one were wounded from shrapnel bursts. They all survived.

For that bravery and leadership he was awarded the Military Medal.

Rev Brown became an Army chaplain in 1986, later serving in Timor, the Solomon Islands and with the commandos in Afghanistan in 2008.

Having been through two tours of real conflict in Vietnam, men looked up to him - and not just active Christians.

"I walked the talk.

"I had only ever served in infantry battalions so I had a great understanding of the needs of soldiers in infantry units.

"At my age, them knowing that I had served and was decorated; they respected me."