Captain Paul John McKay
1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment
“Let me say at the outset, it is an extraordinary privilege to be invited to lead the Australian Army, a privilege carrying with it a deep responsibility and obligation to our nation and people, especially those parents who entrust their dearest treasure to Army’s care.” – General Angus Campbell, on being appointed Chief of Australian Army 16 May 2015
Captain Paul John McKay was born in Adelaide, South Australia on 17 November 1982 to Angela and John McKay. He had a sister, Claire, who was 4 years his junior.
He attended Portside Christian School, Pulteney Grammar and Marden Senior College where he achieved a TER score of 98.65 in year 12.
He was accepted to the University of Adelaide and read a double in Commerce (Accounting) and Law which he achieved with Honours. He was awarded the Dean’s prize as being the best debater in his year.
His other passions were sport and the arts. He loved cricket and Australian Rules football and was a keen supporter of the Port Power team in the AFL. He was the goalkeeper for the Pulteney Grammar Old Boys’ Hockey Club. He also enjoyed the cinema and live theatre.
Like other members of his family, he had a love of travel and celebrated his 2nd birthday in Singapore. He visited western Europe, Thailand, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
He enlisted into the Australian Army Reserve on 02 December 2004 and completed his officer training at the Adelaide Universities Regiment.
CAPT McKay always had an amazing capacity for work and while studying for a double degree and attending Army officer training, he was also a swimming instructor/pool attendant and worked as a shop assistant in a chiminea shop.
He completed officer training in 14 months and graduated from Duntroon in February, 2006. He was awarded the Geddes prize for the most outstanding Cadet in the Field Phase of Military Skills.
He nominated Infantry as his first Corps choice and was fortunate enough to be accepted.
His 3 postings in the Army Reserve as a Lieutenant were OC of Delta Company at 10/27 Royal South Australian Regiment, Liaison Officer to the Brigadier of the 9th Brigade (then BRIG Stephen Smith) and as an instructor back at AUR where he had done his initial Army officer training.
CAPT McKay transferred to the Australian Regular Army in January 2010 and was posted to the 1st Royal Australian Regiment, Townsville.
He was initially OC of the Rehab Platoon and was then Platoon Commander of 8 Platoon, the Body Snatchers, in Charlie Company.
While at 1 RAR he was deployed with Rifle Company Butterworth 92 to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei from November 2010 – February 2011.
In May 2011 CAPT McKay deployed to Afghanistan as the Night Battle Captain in Headquarters Combined Team Uruzgan 2 and returned to Australia in January 2012 when he was posted to the L125 Project in Canberra.
While in Canberra he was an active member of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Manuka, was a practising Freemason, volunteer with the SES and a member of Eastlake Football Club.
On 29 Dec 13 he flew to the US via Sydney – San Francisco – Newark and took a greyhound bus to the small town of Saranac Lake (population 5,000) in upstate New York, about an hour from the Canadian border, 2 hours from Montreal and in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. On New Year’s Eve he bought a blanket and a shovel and commenced climbing Scarface Mountain, one of the 6 peaks that surround Saranac Lake. As a polar vortex was about to hit the region and temperatures would plummet to -20C he managed to muster enough strength to dig through the solid, icy ground, lay down on the blanket and froze to death. He literally dug his own grave and was not found for 16 days.
The choice of Scarface Mountain was significant, the mountain is named after its massive scar, which is covered in snow virtually all the year. Even during the warmer summer months Scarface’s scar is visible and like the mountain CAPT McKay also had scars but his were all internal and could not be seen. But just because they could not be seen does not mean they were not there.
Throughout the 10 years of his military career he always showed total loyalty, dedication and commitment to the Australian Army.
Like the Royal Australian Regiment motto to CAPT Paul McKay it was always “Duty First”.
2 songs have been written about CAPT McKay’s tragic death – “Scarface Mountain” by Paul Bourke and “Broken Soldiers” by Beccy Cole which could be the anthem for all PTS sufferers.
On 24 Nov 15 the Training Room at Charlie Coy, 1 RAR was refurbished and dedicated to the memory of CAPT McKay.
On 10 Nov 18 CAPT McKay’s name was included on the Afghanistan Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra as his death was deemed directly attributable to his war service.
On 11 Nov 20 CAPT McKay’s name was included on the Avenue of Honour memorial at Yungaburra, QLD.
On 20 Jun 21 he was also remembered on the Middle East Conflicts Memorial at the Two Wells RSL in South Australia.
On ANZAC day 2014, in response to a request from one of Paul’s Army colleagues the Mayor of Saranac Lake climbed Scarface Mountain and placed a poppy at the memorial cairn where CAPT McKay’s body was located. Afterwards a memorial service was held at the town war memorial.
This tradition has continued and Saranac Lake proudly claims to be the only town in the US that commemorates ANZAC day each year.
Perhaps it is only fair that Paul himself should be able to have the final words in his biography and just before boarding the bus to Saranac Lake he wrote a final letter to his parents which stated “I am not suicidal, nor am I weak. But basically fighting an unwinnable battle.” In the 31 years of his short, but amazing life it was the only battle he ever lost.
“”The hard-nosed capability fact for any organisation is obvious: if you depend on talent and teamwork, and you allow your people to be abused, rather than grow to their full potential, you’re not doing your job.” – General Angus Campbell, Chief of Australian Army (16 Aug 2017)
“People try to say suicide is the most cowardly act a man could ever commit. I don’t think that’s true at all. What’s cowardly is treating a man so badly that he wants to commit suicide.” – Tommy Tran