By Terence Kidd, an ex-serviceman who reached the rank of Major and once served in
Private Kovco’s unit

I have no doubt that Kovco’s death will turn out to be just a tragic accident. But the Australian Defence Force has serious questions to answer about the circumstances that led to his death.

If what I have read, and heard, is correct then Kovco and his two soldier mates were in a secure area (where they lived and slept). If this is correct then what the hell were they doing with weapons loaded and in a state to fire?

For one thing, apart from going “phew” whenever you step inside a secure area, it’s also important for the patrol commander to conduct a weapons clearance and physically check each weapon to ensure that none may accidentally discharge. This is a very basic safety procedure and should NEVER not be conducted. It seems to me that the patrol commander has some serious questions to answer and so do his commanders.

What’s more, any soldier can tell you that regardless of the type of rifle or pistol there are four “states of weapon readiness”:

  • Unload – no magazine on the weapon and no round “up the spout” – impossible to harm anyone;
  • Load – a magazine on the weapon but no round “up the spout” – still a very safe state;
  • Action – magazine on, round up the spout but safety catch applied – is theoretically possible for the weapon to fire if dropped; and
  • Instant – magazine on, round up the spout, safety catch off – ready for instant use and can be accidentally discharged.

Kovco’s weapon must have been in the “instant” condition for it to discharge in the circumstances described by Brendan Nelson. In a secure area I can understand weapons being in a loaded condition dependent on the circumstances but no higher state of weapon readiness is justified. What the hell were Kovco’s officers and NCOs doing to allow such a disgraceful lack of basic checks and supervision?

I knew General Peter Leahy much earlier in his career and he is not a man to allow incompetency. He will be deeply embarrassed that such an incident has occurred and deeply angry at those who allowed it to occur. Heads will roll.