Last year, retired Army corporal Crissy Ashcroft won over fans of The Voice with her vulnerable and raw performance of Cold Chisel's "When the War Was Over." Ashcroft, 50, explained how singing helped her recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. "It's a bit like alcohol," she said of symptoms such as panic attacks. "You're always going to have trouble. It's just a matter of working out how you deal with it when it happens."
Now Ashcroft is dealing with allegations from former army veterans, first published on Nine.com.au on June 1, that she never served in combat. One officer, who was not identified but served in the same Special Operations Task Force as Ashcroft, said, "I know intimately what her roles and responsibilities were. Finance clerk, that’s it. She would sit in the pay office and she would process people’s forms and enter that stuff into Microsoft excel. That is it.”
In a full statement provided to WHO, Ashcroft says that while some published versions of her story may not accurately represent her service, she did in fact serve "outside the wire" in two missions in Afghanistan.
"Over the last week, the story of my service on operations has been publicly questioned and sadly drawn much attention and anger from many people, particularly other veterans," she wrote. "Many versions of my story exist in the media, online and in social media that are incorrect or misrepresent what I did. I did not write these accounts nor endorse them. However I acknowledge by letting them and media content to remain uncorrected, my story of service has been wrongly portrayed. I wish to ensure my story is reflected accurately, as I honour my military service and am a proud former soldier and veteran."
Ashcroft was deployed with the Special Operations Task Force to Uruzgan, Afghanistan, between November 2009 and March 2010. While she served as a financial officer in the support team, she recounted that she was asked to participate in two "outside the wire" missions in five detailed paragraphs within her statement.
"My deployments “outside the wire” were very confronting, and despite all my training, I felt terrified and anxious," she wrote. "I felt, and still feel, that the very real threat of being attacked was there 100% of the time. I was trying to be calm, and professional to unfamiliar people who I had no idea of what their intentions were. The unpredictability is stressful and the potential consequences of any sudden hostilities were frightening to me. I did not want to admit this to those I was serving with."
In her second field mission accompanying SOTG forces west of Tarin Kot, Ashcroft told WHO last year, "I wasn't a commando, but I was happy to go. I would go in to gather intel off the women and the children in the villages. I was utilised in that area because I was female, I was strong, I was confident with weapons and the guys knew I could handle myself. I saw a lot of things that I wish I could unsee, women and children that were sick, adults that weren't well. I feared for my life several times."
When Ashcroft returned home at the end of her deployment, she told WHO she had pain from torn shoulder ligaments and her eyesight and hearing were impaired, although she never said she suffered those ailments in the midst of battle. A psychiatrist diagnosed Ashcroft with PTSD, anxiety and depression in 2011.
"During my 13 years service, including a deployment to Afghanistan, I have suffered both physical and mental injuries as a direct cause from my military service," Ashcroft wrote in her statement. "I do not and have never claimed to be a Special Forces operator or to have fought alongside them in combat."
Kellie Dadds, a volunteer spokesperson for the Women's Veterans Network, says, "We've done extensive open-source research on [Ashcroft's] case and found no evidence that supported the allegations against her." Dadds also says, "Other people in the media have misrepresented her story and Cris acknowledges that fact, which has led to all of the recent attention."
Concluded Ashcroft in her statement, "During my service I worked among and with highly trained soldiers, from across the Army and I am equally fortunate now to be able to assist other veterans transition and move on with life in my role as an Ambassador for Invictus Games and the Women Veterans Network Australia – two causes for which I hold great passion."
Prince Harry visits Sydney this week to countdown to the 2018 Invictus Games in Toronto. " I am looking forward to the Games and what it will bring to the Defence community," Ashcroft tells WHO. "It's wounded, injured and sick women and men recovering through sport."