He is the first NZ Serviceman killed in Afghanistan.*
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Decoration for an action in Timor L'Este. The citation for the award reads -
"Lieutenant O'Donnell, in the rank of Second Lieutenant, served as Platoon Commander in Timor Leste from November 2006 to May 2007, as part of the NZDF contribution to the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF). His platoon was conducting a security patrol in April 2007 when it encountered a crowd of approximately 1000 Fretilin supporters returning from an election rally in Dili.
"The crowd, escorted by UN Police officers, halted on the outskirts of Manatuto, fearing attacks from opposition political supporters. While the platoon was endeavouring to secure a safe route, the UN Police began moving the Fretilin supporters across a bridge toward Manatuto.
"The crowd was then ambushed by some 600 opposition supporters throwing rocks and firing steel darts and arrows. Under the hail of projectiles, the Police escort was quickly overwhelmed and withdrew, leaving the Fretilin convoy stranded on the bridge. He made a quick decision to intervene in the melee, which meant that his platoon also came under attack.
Eventually, his platoon managed to push back the attackers and secure a bypass route around Manatuto for the Fretilin convoy, which safely circumnavigated the town without loss of life or serious injury. Soon after ISF reinforcements arrived on the scene to assist in restoring law and order to the town. Without the decisive intervention of his platoon, it is likely that the situation could have deteriorated resulting in a number of fatalities between the rival political supporters.
He has been described by his family as "an Army man".
My thanks to Lt O'Donnell for his first class service to his country. My sympathy and thoughts are with his family.
* Another NZer, holding dual NZ and US citizenship, was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the US Army.