Antonio Po knows a thing or two about gambling. So when the
36-year-old former offshore casino deckhand rushed into a wall of
acrid smoke and a shower of mortar shells to rescue his wailing,
injured colleagues and complete strangers at Iraq's Al Kasik army
base during a militant attack in 2004, he knew the odds were stacked
Antonio came out unscathed. And seven years later, the Australian
government awarded the Goan along with four other Indian civilian
workers at the Al Kasik camp with the Australian bravery award last
A few days after he was nominated for the award, Antonio recalled
that the whine of the mortars and the shrieks of his injured,
bleeding colleagues still haunt him. Before he left for Iraq to work
as a dinner mess attendant, he was employed in one of the many
casinos operating in Goa.
"It was in 2004 August. Two truck bombs exploded near the dining
facility where I was working at Al Kasik. We were too stunned to
react and then the mortar shelling started," Antonio told IANS,
recounting the terror attack.
"There was dust everywhere and a very acrid smell. And then we heard
the cries of those injured. Nearly 50 people had died and a bigger
number were injured," he said.
"We rushed into the melee and brought back to shelter and aid the
injured from where they were lying in pain and exposed to further
attacks," he added.
Along with Antonio, there were four other Indians, Deepak Arondekar,
Steven Miranda -- also from Goa -- Nagarajan Muthu Kamatchi from
Tamil Nadu and Sandeep Sherigar from Maharashtra, who were a part of
the make-shift rescue team.
All of them were awarded the latest Australian Bravery Awards,
released by Australia's first woman governor-general Quentin Bryce,
earlier this week.
At the time of the militant attack at Al Kasik, 44 soldiers from an
Australian Army Training team were training freshly-recruited Iraqi
Antonio said he was "extremely honoured" that Australia remembered
"It feels terrific to have made a difference in conflict, especially
when you are a civilian and have no direct role in action," said Po,
who hails from Caranzalem, on the outskirts of Panaji.
Antonio now works on board an international leisure cruise-liner; a
cushy appointment when compared to the perils he faced at the army
base in Iraq.
There's no dust, no stifling heat and there are no mortar shells
raining from above, but the memories of 2004 come back often; even
when the cruise-liner ploughs through the depths of the Atlantic
"I just cannot get rid of them. The cries, that acrid smell and the
nasty dust in Iraq on the eighth of August," he said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at email@example.com)