Sapper Jacob
Sapper Jacob "Snowy" Moerland, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday.

Preparing to lay soldier to rest

HE’S coming home.

While a shocked Gayndah community spent yesterday rallying around the family of fallen Afghanistan soldier Jacob Moerland, the digger’s body was making its sad, slow journey back to Australia.

The 21-year-old sapper died in hospital after a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan on Monday morning, which also killed Sapper Darren Smith and explosive detection dog Herbie.

Department of Defence officials have been with Sapper Moerland’s mother Sandra in Gayndah for the past two days, as the family makes plans to lay their son to rest.

“The family is just grieving at the moment, as you can imagine,” Captain Margaret Nichols said.

“But it’s one of those things about a country town — everyone has been really supportive.”

She said Sapper Moerland’s fiancee Kezia Mulcahy and father Robert Moerland were also receiving support from army officials in Brisbane.

Hundreds of wellwishers are expected at the funeral, planned for 11am on June 17 at the Gayndah town hall.

Former Gayndah Shire Mayor Peter Huth said the mood of the town was sombre.

“The whole community is thinking of the Moerland family,” said Mr Huth, now a North Burnett regional councillor.

“I spoke with Mrs Moerland yesterday, and she was just surrounded by friends. Her son was well loved in town, he had a lot of friends in the army and in town, and she’s extremely proud of him.”

But two other families in Gayndah have been particularly hard hit by the tragedy — the Eisel family, whose son Greg is serving on the same tour as Sapper Moerland, and the family of James Lederhose, who is preparing for deployment.

The three boys were friends and went to Burnett State College together.

Before leaving for the eight-month tour in February, rifleman and driver Greg Eisel spoke about looking forward to catching up with his schoolmate, who was nicknamed “Snowy”.

The boys had been close friends since their school days, and competed together in the 2007 Gayndah “Outback Bloke” competition.

Gayndah RSL sub-branch president Errol Shepherd said Greg Eisel was there at the time of his mate’s death.

“So he would be fairly upset and shocked,” Mr Shepherd said.

Sue Lederhose said her son James was in Darwin preparing for a possible posting to Afghanistan, and was devastated at the news of his friend’s death.

“James was best friends with Jacob ... he feels very deeply about Jacob’s loss,” she said.

Mr Shepherd said the RSL would honour the fallen soldier by adding his name to the town’s war memorial.

“In the past it’s not usually been the case that a memorial is established until the campaign is completed, but we felt his service warranted this,” he said.

Sapper Moerland will be entitled to receive three war medals, which will be given to his family, Mr Shepherd said.

Sappers Moerland and Smith were expected to be farewelled by their mates at a ramp ceremony in Afghanistan last night (AEST).

Defence Minister John Faulkner was planning to attend a second ramp ceremony at the Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai, when the soldiers’ bodies arrived there last night. The bodies of the two soldiers will arrive in Australia in the next few days.

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