A DUTCH soldier who was ambushed by the Taliban in Afghanistan has visited Bendigo to thank the people who saved his life.Visiting Thales Australia yesterday, an emotional Corporal Rick Smulders told of his chilling encounter in the Afghani desert, where the Bendigo-built Bushmaster became his saviour. Corporal Smulders was posted to Camp Hadrian near Deh Rawod with the Royal Netherlands Army Task Force Uruzgan 4 from July to December, 2007.The base camp was sub-standard, with no running water, showers or toilets.Soldiers slept in tents and under tarpaulins, and often came under fire from the enemy.Rocket attacks were the rule, rather than the exception. “It was a very rough, very hard tour,” Corporal Smulders said.He had spent four months in Iraq in 2004, but this experience was “much more dangerous”. And that was certainly the case on a fateful day in September, when Cpl Smulders, accompanied by a commander and two gunners, drove a Bushmaster into a marijuana field searching for a wounded soldier.Tim Hoogland, a Dutch soldier in a separate platoon, had been wounded after the Taliban attacked only moments earlier.Members of his unit were forced to flee into a nearby Afghani home, but it was too dangerous for them to return on foot to help their mate.“We were called in,” Rick said.“We went searching for Tim . . . but our Bushmaster was hit by five rockets.“There was a lot of small arms fire from the Taliban from 20-30 metres around us.“The vehicle was taken out and we couldn’t drive.”Cpl Smulders and his crew of three were trapped inside the vehicle, knowing they would come under attack should they exit.“We tried to move the vehicle but it didn’t work,” he said.“You can’t train for that situation, but you can train for what to do.“At that point your mind thinks, 'oh, I have to do that'.“Your skills and drills take over.”The crew immediately erased the radio to ensure the enemy could not access Dutch defence information, and disarmed the machine gun.They called in through the headset that they needed to leave the vehicle, and fortunately two Bushmasters were travelling closely behind.One had already located Tim and quickly reversed to the rear of Cpl Smulders’ vehicle, allowing the unit to quickly board without prolonged exposure to danger.Sadly, Tim later died at the platoon base.The damaged Bushmaster was left in the field and two hellfire missiles were later fired into the vehicle by helicopter to render it useless to the Taliban.It was several months before it was safe for anyone to return to the vehicle, but anything left on the machine had been pilfered and sold at markets by the locals. But that machine will always hold a place in the hearts of Cpl Smulders and his crew.“It saved our lives . . . it’s really true,” he said.“If we were in a Mercedes Benz soft top (which the crew then travelled in for three months), we wouldn’t have survived.“It was the whole package, the design, how it was built . . . and 90 per cent luck that we did survive.”Rick said there were many incidents in Afghanistan where personnel in Bushmaster vehicles had come out unhurt, and to visit the factory that had saved so many lives was an emotional experience.“It’s really nice to be here . . . the fact I can visit the factory that made the vehicle that saved my life is really good,” he said.“You are thinking of that incident every day . . . it gives some closure.“We were there four or five months and had a really rough time.“We were in a lot of fire fights and we did it as a team.“I’m not representing myself, I’m representing my unit.”The unit, after all, is like family. Often closer.“You cannot train for these situations, you cannot train for a firefight . . . you can try, but it’s not the same as a real firefight,” Cpl Smulders said.“When you’re in a real firefight, your mind is thinking skills and drills.“But after, when it’s all done, you’re thinking f---, what happened?”Then you’re thinking it over and over again.“Your colleagues become your family because no one else can understand what you have been through.“It’s really difficult . . . really weird.”