On 24 August 2010, during his second Afghanistan deployment, Dan was part of an Afghan and Australian fighting patrol engaged by a numerically superior and coordinated enemy force near the village of Derapet in the Uruzgan province of Afghanistan. For his actions on this day, Dan was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.
During a 3.5 hour engagement, Dan repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to help in target identification and the treatment and clearance of one of his wounded comrades. He recalled assessing the risk before undertaking his action and says, “I don’t think what I did was really brave. It was what was required at the time”.
According to the VC citation, ”with complete disregard for his own safety, left his position of cover on the ridge line to deliberately draw fire away from the team treating the casualty. Corporal Keighran remained exposed and under heavy fire while traversing the ridge line, in order to direct suppressing fire and then assist in the clearance of the landing zone to enable evacuation of the casualty.”
Dan attained the rank of corporal and remains an active member of the Army Reserve.
CPL Keighran is the third recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia which was awarded to him on the 1st of November 2012.
WHAT DO YOU GET ASKED MOST WHEN PEOPLE MEET YOU FOR THE FIRST TIME?
People often ask me whether I would do the same thing again that I did during the conflict in Afghanistan... when you see someone who needs help and you can take action to find a solution – so, yes, I would do that again and have never doubted my decisions during that conflict.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Without a doubt, the words of my late grandfather have given me so much direction and inspiration throughout my childhood, then as a teenager and a young man. For those who have read my book, I found so much inspiration in my upbringing and I am always reflecting on those conversations, which inspired me to want more for my life. I have always strived to be a better person. I experienced some challenges throughout my childhood, however those challenging experiences have helped to shape me, which has been beneficial in teaching me about resilience and personal growth. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away before I received my VC, however I will continue to acknowledge his positive influence throughout my life.
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN IN THE MILITARY THAT YOU STILL USE REGULARLY?
I continue to harness the importance of relationships and the ability to work in a team. I have worked within some very diverse teams (nationally and internationally), and I understand the importance of using emotional intelligence to lead people. I enjoy learning about people’s strengths and what they can bring to the team, which is something I learned as a soldier and have always focused on when meeting new people. I have a values-based approach to relationships and leadership, including the Army values that are still so important in a range of environments (not just the military) - doing the right thing, respecting other people and getting the best out of the team.
BEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE?
So many amazing things have happened throughout my life. I grew up as an Aussie kid in the bush and now I am a VC recipient. I would have to say that meeting the Queen in Buckingham Palace was probably a highlight of my life and not as overwhelming as it sounds. As an introvert, I had to force myself to be a public figure, so it was a bit challenging for me to come out of my shell after being awarded the VC.
WHAT IS YOUR STRONGEST PERSONALITY TRAIT?
I would have to say resilience (or stubbornness). I have always had the ability to set my mind to something and persevere until I achieve that goal. No matter what happens or the challenges you face, it’s important to keep working towards a goal. I also prefer to be humble.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS?
It has changed over the years, but in more recent years, I have noticed that I don’t like ‘big-noting’ myself and often undersell my skills and experience. It takes me a while to acknowledge my achievements and experience, which can sometimes lead to moments of self-doubt until I remind myself of what I am capable of.
HOW WOULD YOUR BEST MATE DESCRIBE YOU IN 3 WORDS:
Reliable (always there for my mates), trustworthy, loyal.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
Without a doubt, I received the best advice from my grandfather when I was growing up.
1- work hard in life and good things will happen
2 – the importance of understanding people and how you choose to live your life. What rules govern what you do? Do you truly know who you are as a person and what you represent?
WHAT STRATEGIES DO YOU USE TO MAINTAIN YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
I find it easier to work through stress and manage competing priorities when I am fit and physically active, so I often lean into fitness and maintaining a strong connection to those I served with. I prefer to keep an open dialogue with my comrades and support them through our similar experiences – it's so important to keep communicating.
I’m not affected by my experiences in Afghanistan and I don’t second guess any of my actions, which may be due to my early childhood challenges and resilience. I had developed coping mechanisms at a young age, so complex threat environments don‘t have much of an impact on me. In saying that, I know lots of veterans who are struggling, and I will continue to be there for them because I understand that everyone has different life experiences and different levels of resilience. I also acknowledge that ‘witness PTSD’ can be challenging and a genuine threat to mental health.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DAN KEIGHRAN VC?
Despite no longer serving in uniform, I have so many opportunities and options to find new purpose throughout my life. For the next 24 months, I will be focusing on my career in defence industry as I am happy where I am now. The ADF has given me an amazing platform of skills and experience to look at other opportunities and career pathways - it has given me so much and I often think about how I can contribute to society in new ways. I have so much to contribute, and I have found purpose in each step of my career.
When I originally left defence (before I was awarded a VC medal), I applied for over 40 jobs and didn’t even receive one call back. It was a bit disheartening, but I continued to find new opportunities and consider options that I hadn’t previously considered. I had a friend in mining, so I upskilled and got the qualifications I needed to take that step. I drove to Kalgoorlie and worked in the mines for 4 years. I realised that the mines did not fulfil my purpose in life, so I sought out the next opportunity that suited me and my family at the time. I had realised during that time that I enjoyed helping people who continue to serve, so Defence industry felt like a good fit for me. I had to remind myself in the early days after transitioning, that I was part of a big institution, and it takes time to break out of that routine and environment. I think that helped me to keep striving and making new plans for my future.
One day, I would love to be the Director of the Australian War Memorial.
FAVOURITE MOVIE AND WHY?
Secondhand Lions with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. It’s an adventure movie but the story telling is amazing, with lots of twists and turns. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
FAVOURITE PLACE IN AUSTRALIA?
The Australian War Memorial without a doubt. I’m on the board of the AWM and I enjoy the opportunity to share the experiences of veterans. There’s so much power in these stories and it can also be a place of healing for people to visit. I also see how important it is for the next generation to learn about veterans and our military history.
HAVE YOU EVER VISITED OR LIVED IN THE TOP END?
Yes, I have visited there a few times, including a few crazy laps in a V8 around Hidden Valley.
Interviewed by Deb Herring Committee Member The Top Ender Magazine