Reverend Yogananda Juste-Constant — Chaplain (SQNLDR) Air Force (Ret’d)

Reverend Yogananda Juste-Constant has served in the Royal Australian Air Force for twenty-eight years in a variety of roles.

29 April 2020

Reverend Yogananda Juste-Constant wearing glasses and dressed in a white Anglican robe with medals pinned to a black tippet scarf. He is smiling and standing with his hands clasped together. In the background, there is a war memorial with a very tall cross and wreaths at the base of the memorial.

Even though Reverend Juste-Constant migrated to Australia as a Professional Electrical Engineer, six years later he found himself enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Qualified Licensed Electrician in 1990.

He also worked as a Qualified French Interpreter for the Australian Defence Force in a Tri-Service environment, especially during his deployment to Rwanda in 1995 as a member of the ASC2, OP TAMAR, United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda after the genocide of 1994. Reverend Juste-Constant was also a Works Supervisor in the Airfield Engineering Unit.

In early 2000, Reverend Juste-Constant was selected by the Air Force Chaplaincy Branch to study Theology at Saint Mark National Theological Centre, Charles Sturt University. After his graduation and his intensive training at St John Anglican Church in Canberra ACT, he was ordained in the Canberra – Goulburn Anglican Diocese as a Deacon and then as a Priest. Reverend Juste-Constant was posted back to the Air Force as a full time Anglican Chaplain.

In 2016, having reached the Compulsory Retiring Age Reverend Yogananda Juste-Constant transferred to the Reserves. He finally finished his time in uniform in 2019, having served in the ADF for a total of 28 years.

Memories of the ADF

When asked about how he views his time in the ADF, Reverend Juste-Constant said thinking back through the different stages he went through during his service brought back a lot of memories. ‘I miss the people. We used to have a wonderful rapport. It doesn’t hurt me too much, but I miss them. It’s important when dealing with death, moments of sadness, joy to have those people around you. You remember the people you had a close rapport with and then they left the service either on a medical ground, retirement or death. You remember all that. It can bring me some trouble, some sadness, but at the same time some great time for theological reflections, it’s okay. I’m dealing with that. We have to keep building our inner resilience and of course, our faith.’

In the chaplaincy, we had people who come to see you and ask for help. In order to help them you have to understand where they are. We acquired a lot of skills in our chaplaincy ministry through personal experiences and our yearly compulsory professional development. Now that I’m back in civilian life, I find those skills fantastic and I can continue to help people do better in our communities. I keep helping people dealing with matters related to relationships, mental health such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Some of these people are ex-service members of the ADF, and others are civilians. I can easily help them deal with matters that I am very familiar with or even have experienced personally. I’ve been there too you know. I found it fantastic, if you use the skills properly.’

‘I deal with professional people who are very skilled in what they do, but to use those skills and open their awareness is not easy. I hear people say “I don’t want other people to know my struggles”, but if you really want to be healed and to move forward with confidence, you have to find the right people to talk to. It’s very important. You will have a wonderful opportunity to get rid of the uncertainties. There is always a way to get out of the dark tunnel, you will find the light, which will lead you towards the resolution of any difficulty.

Personal transition experience

‘We have to acknowledge that we have to mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves to face new career challenges as part of our transition. It did hurt me a lot when I knew that I had to separate from the service after so many years. We need to acknowledge that we are not here forever, it’s time to move on and do something different or continue to develop our present skills in order to adapt to the new life as a civilian.’

‘During my time as a chaplain, I use to receive a lot of people coming in and talking about the issues they were dealing with as they were preparing to move back to civilian life. Reverend Juste-Constant says this helped him a lot when he started to process his own transition before he had to transition himself. ‘It wasn’t something that just happened like that. Very young people may have an accident that can impede them to continue their service in the ADF and they have to leave and that can impact them mentally. For me it was different, I could start processing my transition knowing it was ok, and I sent myself in the way to keep going through it.’

‘The difficulty I had when I first moved to the Reserves was to learn to say no, it wasn’t easy for me to start saying no. It started to hurt. As a Reservist I worked for a day or two a week when I had spent all those years working every day, sometimes 7 days a week. People would call me on my day off and ask if I could help. I’d say, I’ll see you in a minute and jump in my car.’

In 2018, Reverend Juste-Constant began to think about leaving the Reserves. ‘It was necessary for me to start dealing with how I am going to deal with leaving. I was teaching people how to let go and I had to start applying that to myself and it worked well for me. It was time for transition and it wasn’t the end of the world. I had to learn to find a way to say no and yes when it was necessary. It can hurt, especially if I took it personally. Over the last two years, I’ve gotten much better at saying no.’

Current work and goals for the future

‘I would have loved to continue working in the ADF. Right now, I have a lot of projects and right now I am doing some studies at Flinders University in Literature and Creative Writing which has been a dream of mine for many years – I want to write my stories in the services. Stories related specially with my deployment to Rwanda in 1995 as a French Linguist and to the Middle East as a Chaplain. I am interested in writing Fiction and Nonfiction books for adults and children. I am very well aware of the difficulties that my former colleagues and clients that I will continue to connect with them through my stories and theirs. So, I want to take the opportunity to offer something to them and to other people as well.’

‘As a member of the Adelaide Anglican Diocese, I continue to minister to the people in Church and meet them in other gatherings through some light chaplaincy works. I am also a representative of the Adelaide Anglican Diocese to the South Australian Council of Churches (SACC). Now that I’m retired from the ADF, I have enough time to play music and be a full-time student. Retirement doesn’t have to mean you cross your arms and sit around to play with your fingers. Unfortunately, many people do that but we have been blessed with so many gifts, we can our best to share them with others.’

Advice for transition

Having worked with Defence members dealing with transition and so many other matters, Reverend Juste-Constant had a wealth of advice to offer regarding transition. ‘My intention had always been and continues to be to help people understand there is great life after service. It’s a matter of refocusing and reorganising your mind, it’s not about serving the ADF only, there are other ways to continue serving out there.’ Reverend Juste-Constant also emphasises, ‘the transition process isn’t something that happens in one day, adjusting can happen over a few months, a few years. It is up to the individual.’

‘I always encourage people to do what I did, the Australian Defence Force won’t be there all the time, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) have specialist advisers who can help. You can find an advocate to help you deal with whatever you are going through after your military service. Reverend Yogananda Juste-Constant considers his family here in Australia and overseas and good friends to be his support network and stresses the importance of community. ‘We have to keep building community, keep in touch with people, keep connected.’

Reverend Juste-Constant’s advice is to start building something else. ‘I prepare my time to keep studying and writing and sharing with other people, so that’s my goal. My background is from Haiti, I have so many stories, many things I can write about, I can’t just let it die.’ Among his other goals, Reverend Juste-Constant hopes to publish his work, particularly in the genre of historical fiction, nonfiction and also producing some more music for his fans.

‘In a more personal basis I can confirm that DVA has been helping me very much over the last couple of years. I am very grateful and blessed to have served in the ADF and now as a Veteran, to have DVA there for me, ready to support me with any issue that is connected with my military service and their impacts on my personal life. They have sponsored me to see specialists like psychologists and psychiatrists and whatever I needed. I really appreciate what DVA has been doing. Some people have had some unfortunate experiences, but so far, I am happy with the support that I have received. Indeed, they have taken some loads off my back.’

If this story has raised any issues for you, please contact Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). This free and confidential service provides support to current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For information about Open Arms and the services they provide, including access to a Community and Peer Support Advisor, visit Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling.