AS INSURGENTS waged a bloody war around him, Matt Steel’s heart was 10,000km away.
It was August last year and Mr Steel, an operations officer with the Australian Army, had just landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, knowing his first child was about to be born back home.
“To get on a plane and leave your pregnant wife at home was really hard,” Mr Steel said.
“Most new dads experience the whole hospital thing and then spend a few days back home.
“But the first I knew my girl had arrived was by email.”
Two weeks after leaving Australia, his wife Steph – also an army recruit – gave birth to little Alyssa.
“When I found out I was so excited, I couldn’t focus,” Mr Steel said.
“The boss gave me a few hours off, but I couldn’t call or speak to anyone back home. We tried to Skype but it didn’t work. I just ended up walking around aimlessly.”
Mr Steel finished his nine-month secondment in Afghanistan this month, arriving home to see Alyssa, now eight months old, for the first time.
“To get off the plane and see your wife holding your child is a feeling very hard to describe,” Mr Steel said.
The family is currently showing Alyssa off to her grandparents in Tamworth, Mr Steel’s home town.
Part of the army’s 205 Coalition Advisory Team in Afghanistan, Mr Steel worked closely with the Afghani Army’s “hero corps” and helped organise vehicles, helicopters and security.
“It was mainly advising the Afghanis about day-to-day jobs and making sure they were ready and capable to keep doing the job of neutralising the Taliban,” he said.
He said the experience had radically altered his view on the long-running Afghani conflict.
“It does broaden your view, especially when you speak to ordinary Afghanis and see how much they love the country and want a future for their families,” he said.
“It makes you respect their culture more when you’re there.”
Only 400 Australians remain in Afghanistan as part of an international peacekeeping contingent.
Mr Steel will now be posted in Darwin as an operation captain with the 1st Armoured Regiment – Australia’s only tank regiment – while Mrs Steel will return from maternity leave in August and take up a post as a signals officer in the aviation regiment.
The couple met at Duntroon in 2008.