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Simon Mills — active reservist: 28 years and counting

It was like it was in my blood

Photo of Simon MillsI first joined the regular Army in 1982 as a Truck Driver and I left the Army in 1988 due to starting a family. With the family coming along I decided that I didn't want to drag them around the country, I wanted them to have stability. I went straight from the Army at Keswick in South Australia, to 8 Transport Squadron because my old OC (Officer Commanding) was going there. I lasted about a year and then I jumped out until I rejoined through the Army Reserves in 1993.

At that point I really needed to go back, it was like it was in my blood. So I went back to Reserves and I've been there ever since. At the moment I'm an instructor for driving courses. I just finished doing a course a few weeks ago with a trailer. So all up, I'm 28 years in service now. I still enjoy driving the vehicles and the training and I feel my experience is invaluable at the moment.

Injured on deployment

I injured my shoulder in 2007. I took my full body weight on one of the Patrol Boats up in Darwin and it was sore for about a week. I've been lucky that I've always had good upper body strength so I was able to adjust and work around it. In fact, I went back to work right after I did that deployment, no real change, anything I found difficult I just made modifications to make it easier.

My injury got worse when I went to the Solomon Islands just from everyday work. I'd be doing things like changing tyres on vehicles and stuff like that which probably didn't help and then I managed to tear the shoulder further and that's what affected me when I returned to Australia. I found that I was welding up trailers for a friend and I couldn't work out why it was taking me twice as long as usual. I then realised that I was unable to put my arm in the right position to do the job correctly. I went and got x-rays and MRI scans and 2 weeks later I was under the knife.

Where to go?

Getting all your paperwork squared away before applying for rehabilitation is very important. I went and saw a veterans' advocate for advice because I wasn't sure which way to go at that point. I met the advocate through my local RSL which worked out well as he helped fill out the paperwork for me, that went to DVA and then pretty much 2 weeks later I was under the knife. I got to pick my own specialist or surgeon which was really good.

I learned a lot about my injury from my physiotherapist as well and now I think my shoulder capacity is about 80% which I'm satisfied with. I can still operate, I can still do Army Reserve with it and, more recently, I've noticed that I've started to get more strength from it, which is good. I understand that it will never be 100% but I'm 54 in March and I can punch out 54 pushups so I'm getting back on track.

Getting back on track

When I was ready to return to work I was looking at going into the mining industry. I did have Bobcat experience but never officially had a ticket, so I was supported by DVA to get my Bobcat license as part of my rehabilitation program.  Back in the days when I was in a Bobcat you didn't need a ticket, you were just shown how to do it and away you went. Since then I've also got qualifications for using heavy vehicles like dump trucks and excavators as part of the DVA rehabilitation program.

Prior to my service in the Solomon Islands, all my previous work experience involved physical labor. I used to run an Engineering Factory and it was all steel tubing, metal bending and powder coating. I was the Foreman so it was a lot more high intensity and involved a lot more physicality for me at this point in my life. I realise that I'm getting older, I can't do physical work forever, and it made me realise that I've got to start to adjust.

Dropping down a gear

Through my rehabilitation service provider I have found work as a Chauffeur. It's not as labor intensive as my previous work, far from it. I've had experience doing a similar job in the Military and that experience has helped me in my preparation and I haven't found it difficult to transfer my skills. It's almost second nature now.

I pride myself on being prepared prior to when I pick up the client. I find you get good information on run sheets, which tell you where they have got to go and what time they have got to be there. If I don't know the location I do a reconnaissance. I've noticed that the customers really appreciate this and I'm now getting calls from clients asking for my services again because I get them where they have to be on time. I pride myself on being efficient and professional.

Embrace your recovery

I have been impressed by the support I have received from DVA. My initial expectation was I thought initially they might be able to help fix me, maybe give me three months physio or something and after that you are on your own.

I think some people get upset when they have to do rehabilitation because they feel they have been hard done by. I think the best thing to do is to embrace your recovery, be focused on getting better and don't just shrug it off thinking you'll be right. Try and remain active and keep communication with DVA and your rehabilitation service provider open all the time.

I am lucky that I have great support from my family, especially my wife. I have two boys who are 23 and 25 years old and when it came to my injuries there are things that they have had to do for me and they understand that. They also like to remind me about it as well. I wish I could get them to help me paint the house…but they know I'm alright to do that now.

From July 2013 Reservists are provided rehabilitation services through the Australian Defence Force Rehabilitation Program (ADFRP).

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