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Down a mine and off to war like grandad

Finlay Steel followed the path of his namesake grandfather’s down a mine in Mt Isa and then in the service of his country.

The Squadron Sergeant Major is training Iraqi special forces soldiers at the Taji military base outside of Baghdad as part of a joint Australian and New Zealand effort in the fight against Islamic State militants.

As well as sharing a name and similar career paths, Steel and his grandfather have another extraordinary connection.

“I was actually born on his birthday too,” Steel told AAP on the phone from Iraq.

Steel’s grandfather was deployed to a naval base in Japan after World War II in a reconstruction role. He later honourably discharged from the military to turn his hand at mining in northwest Queensland.

Steel has done the same things in the opposite order.

He spent four years working down a copper mine before the 1999 Australian-led peacekeeping operation in East Timor inspired the then 21-year-old to join the Army.

Three years later, Steel was deployed there as it gained its independence from Indonesia.

A deployment to Afghanistan followed in 2007.

“My grandfather died when I got back from Afghanistan. He hung on until I got back and died a week later,” Steel said, adding he still feels a special bond with his grandfather especially on Anzac Day.

This year, Steel will participate in a dawn service at the military base in Iraq, before getting back to training duties followed by an afternoon’s friendly football game with the Kiwis.

Steel says it fills him with pride to see his Iraqi soldier trainees improve their skills and professionalism in the lead up to their graduations.

He’s been learning Arabic greetings off a morning radio show and is amused by his trainees’ attempts at Aussie slang.

“Out of the blue they come out with ‘G’day mate,'” Steel said.

Steel, a father-of-three, has been away from his Townsville-based family for more than 120 days and is set to return home in June.

He’s looking forward to barbecues, patting the dog and swimming sessions at watering holes with the family when he finishes his deployment.

Australia has 300 defence personnel training Iraqi soldiers.

Since 2015, Australia and NZ have trained more than 30,000 Iraqi troops.

It’s likely Australia could wrap up its joint training program of Iraqi soldiers this year.

Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over the militant group late last year.

At its peak, the so-called IS caliphate controlled most of eastern Syria and about one-third of Iraq’s territory.

Australian Associated Press

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