VICTORIA Cross hero Ben Roberts-Smith is leaving the army to pursue a business career as the exodus of elite soldiers hits alarming levels.
The most high profile departure yet of a special-forces operator comes as the military prepares to award the SAS Number 2 Squadron the Unit Citation for Gallantry for its work in the Battle of Tizak, where Corporal Roberts-Smith earned his VC for conspicuous gallantry.
The elite warrior, who received the second Victoria Cross for Australia in January 2011, is joining a long line of highly skilled soldiers resigning from the Special Air Service Regiment as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, News Limited reports.
A senior army officer said he understood why Roberts-Smith wanted a breather given the tempo of combat operations and the pressure on his young family.
The 34-year-old 10-year SAS veteran has undertaken several tours of duty to and has been engaged in some intense, life threatening combat missions.
"We wish him all the best, he has done so much for his country," the officer told News Limited.
Others marching out include a former commanding officer and several senior officers and experienced non-commissioned officers who fought in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The wider army's inability to offer the soldiers a vision for their future is a key reason for the departures.
"These blokes (SAS troops) joined the regiment to fight for their country," one source said.
Retention in the unit has been good during the East Timor-Iraq-Aghanistan era and according to well-placed sources a turnover now is understandable and expected.
"This is a natural decision point," the source said.
It is understood that Corporal Roberts-Smith will use his nickname of "RS" in the name of his business venture.
The 34-year-old is married to Emma and they have two-year-old twin daughters Eve and Elizabeth.
The son of retired WA judge and Army Reserve Major-General Len Roberts-Smith, he is well connected with the WA business community and will be the highest profile SAS soldier to march out the gates of Campbell Barracks at Swanbourne near Perth.
The Medal for Gallantry (MG) winner was awarded the nation's highest medal for valour under fire following the battle of Tizak in June 2010 where he single-handedly took out two machine guns, killed numerous enemy fighters and saved several of his mates in the process.
Senior SAS soldiers have been lobbying hard for an increased role in Australia's national security architecture, but they have been frustrated by peacetime generals that many refer to as "permafrost", believing they are frozen in position due to length of service.
"The current Canberra leadership has no substantial operational experience," one former officer said.
The one exception is Special Operations Commander Major General Gus Gilmore who is a decorated battle hardened Afghanistan veteran.
Corporal Roberts-Smith's VC was the second awarded to an SAS soldier in Afghanistan after 33-year-old Corporal Mark Donaldson received the top medal in January 2009 after he rescued a wounded comrade under withering fire in September 2008.
A third VC from Afghanistan was presented to 29-year-old Corporal Dan Keighran from the 6th Battalion in November 2012. He also left the full-time army to join the mining industry in Kalgoorlie and to serve in the Reserves.
Last night Roberts-Smith's spokeswoman said he was unavailable for comment, and all she could say was that he was a serving SAS member who was currently on post deployment leave.
Read more at the Herald Sun.