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Heroic rescue act in Iraq begets award for Goan

Sunday March 27, 2011 01:40:03 PM, Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, IANS

Panaji: 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 against him.

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 week.

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 troops.

Antonio said he was "extremely honoured" that Australia remembered his actions.

"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 ocean.

"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






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