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From Brisbane Times
By Tony Moore

Country star Beccy Cole has ‘served’ five times overseas with Australian service men and women.

She has sung to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands and East Timor since her first tour of duty in 2005.

So Cole was a natural to be named the Gympie Muster’s ambassador when the RSL’s Mates4Mates was chosen as the charity for the 2016 Gympie Muster.

Mates4Mates is an arm of the RSL that provides medical, mental and counselling help for Australia’s servicemen and women.

Cole has never forgotten her first tour to a war zone.

“It was amazing. We went to the Middle East. I flew into Kuwait, went into Baghdad, through Qatar and all sorts of places,” the multi-award winning songwriter recalled.

“And I had just an amazing experience getting to entertain the Aussies who were stationed there at the time.”

She tells a story where after one concert in Darwin a mother asked her to give her son a hug when she next performed in Afghanistan.

“She came up me and asked me if I could pass on a hug; just one of those really heart-wrenching stories that happened along the way,” she said.

Some of the accommodation options have been interesting too.

“It ranged from a MASH-sort of thing, with you know ‘Here’s your tent and here is your stretcher bed’, to one time in Baghdad where we had a week in what I think was one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces,” she laughed.

“But by no means was it luxurious. It was like, if it looked gold, you just scratched it and it wasn’t, you know.”

She has now released eight albums, played with Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and Slim Dusty and won nine Golden Guitar awards.

But it is her song 2006 Poster Girl (Wrong Side of the World) that has generated real attention from serving personnel and their families.

The song tells of the singer receiving a letter from a fan mistakenly thinking her singing overseas to Aussie troops amounted to her supporting the war.

“I received a letter from my fan club, which said if are going to give your time to a cause, don’t do it on the wrong side of the world,” she said.

“I was a big fan and I’ve just ripped your poster down, because you’ve supported the war.”

Beccy Cole said the criticism stung.

“To be accused of supporting some sort of ridiculous war on terror – which was not what I was doing at all – hurt,” she said.

“And it just wrote itself. It was the quickest song I’ve ever written.”

One person who knows knows how war can seriously impact serving personnel and their families is Mates4Mates new chief executive officer, Simon Sauer.

He has had a 26-year military career, most recently serving as Chief of Staff, Combat Support Group at RAAF Base Amberley.

He served in Kuwait, Afghanistan and East Timor.

“They (the RSL) recognised in general terms, they had a bit of a problem connecting with the younger generation of veterans,” he said.

Mates4Mates provides the physical and mental support through centres through Townsville, Brisbane and Hobart.

“Now in that three years, the numbers have doubled each year,” Mr Sauer said.

“We’ve got people on our books who have multiple tours of Afghanistan and who have seen some pretty horrible stuff,” he said.

“And we have people who might have been third-generation Army, but were physically broken going through Kapooka – suffered an injury – and it mean their military career was cut short at six to eight weeks.

“And 10 years later, they have never come to grips with the idea that they could never follow in the family history.”

Gympie Muster – August Thursday 25 – Sunday 28 August 2016.

Amamoor Creek State Forest in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

Artists in 2016 include Kasey Chambers, John Williamson, Beccy Cole, The McClymonts, Rodney Carrington, Adam Harvey, Shane Nicholson, Warren H Williams and Caitlyn Shadbolt.

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