Why did I join the Defence Force — it was something that was inevitably in my DNA. Ever since I was a young boy of 4 or 5 years old, I was always playing Army, rolling around in the mud out in the backyard. I had the uniform and helmet and everything. So I joined the Army and I was in and out twice, joined up initially in 1989 through to 1994, had a few years off then re-enlisted in 1998 through to 2012 when I was eventually discharged. The infantry was my priority when I first got in and when I returned I said that I wanted Armoured Corps. Both had its benefits and I enjoyed both times but I ended up staying in Armoured Corps longer the second time, just happened to turn out that way. I didn't want to get back into something that was the same but they are similar in some aspects. Another reason for me wanting a change from Infantry was I lost a friend, Lance Corporal Shannon McAliney, in Somalia. He had always wanted to go into the Armoured Corp, so it was partially for him, in his memory.
The best part of being in the Army was the comradeship. I've done quite a bit operationally and so a lot of those times and the blokes you spent that time with are the good memories that stay with you. The camaraderie, that never goes away even though you might not see each other all the time, you've always got that really close bond. And so there is good and bad times. You remember everything but mostly the good times. It is hard to keep in touch, but we could not see each other for ten years, then when we get back together it's just like we never left.
Time to move on from the ADF
My official discharge was in 2012. In the period leading up to that there was five operational deployments and two of them back to back. I just got burnt out. I guess looking at it now it was battle fatigue. By battle fatigue, I mean just the stress of being overseas every week. That ended up being diagnosed as PTSD. So it was a medical discharge, I had to move on sort of thing. The transition was very difficult. I did a course for PTSD in Townsville to try and help me. At that stage it was probably at the infancy of that whole sort of era that people were starting to be diagnosed with mental health conditions. And so there wasn't as much support as what there is now. Very limited guidelines or help or details on who to turn to. I was lucky enough that I sort of had some contacts in the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Townsville. They helped me out with all the paperwork and that sort of stuff. Back then I had a good RSL advocate too. There was a lot of other people who got out after me within the space of 12 months, and they did suffer a lot because they just didn't have the clear guidance. Whereas now I think people are a lot more process driven and understand what the problems are when people get out of Defence. You also get lectures and seminars from Defence and DVA before you discharge. They give you all the information that you need. But back then, it was really hard, you didn't have a lot of that. Not knowing where to turn to or what was going on.
Recognising the problem to get better
Since discharge it took probably a couple of years for all the DVA paperwork to be sorted. Getting financial support really helped me out though and I was able to just focus on recovery. I got a Gold Card which entitles you to go to the doctors, psychiatry and psychologist, for any health related issues. You have to recognise the problem that you have and then you focus on what you need to do to get better and it's a very lonely process. But once you're feeling better, you have to move on. I can assure you it certainly helps. It's not a cure. I'm not better, but all this helps.
Although it was difficult to adjust, it still is sometimes, the biggest thing I've learnt since discharge is knowledge is power. After I discharged, I went to university and studied for a while but found it wasn't for me. I found other things, like support networks including places like Mates for Mates. I went on the DVA website to see what other options came up and found Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Scheme which had a rehabilitation job focus. I moved on to the rehabilitation program for future employment knowing that I can't just sit back and do nothing for the rest of my life. I was ready to go out and do something. That's where the rehabilitation service was great. Helping Heroes, my rehabilitation provider I got through DVA, gave guidelines on employment and everything like that. Which then brings back a purpose. They helped me to a vocational assessment, and presented me with some options around town. It was important for me to remain in Mt Gambier, my wife works at the hospital here. This is where my life is now.
How my old career translates to the new
The job Helping Heroes helped me secure is with K&S Freighters. K&S are a national transport company, and I handle the operations of the depot here in Mt Gambier. I really enjoy my job. It did take a while to get used to working outside the army, it's a very different world. But for me, I love a challenge and my new job provides that. There's nothing more challenging then entering something you haven't done before and learning slowly the inner workings of the business. The transport industry is quite a big beast when you start getting into it. It's a good challenging environment. The Defence Force teaches you how to adapt in a challenging situation, and that skill has really helped me here. There is so much I have been able to bring into my new job, even though it is totally different to what I was used to. Dedication to work, paying attention to detail, reliability, on the job focus as well as public speaking and being able to confidently distribute information when required.
Find your release, and use it
I'm not a big fan of psychologist or psychiatrist and the use of medication to get you better. It just isn't me. What I found that worked for me is just being outdoors. Whether it's hiking, riding, or anything else outside. That is my therapy. Look I'd have been in a lot worse position if I didn't have my exercise. It not only releases all the right endorphins that you need, it reduces stress and mentally it slowly builds you up again from being in a low place. If you challenge yourself to the physical side that fills your mind up to be able to cope again and to be back where you are. I couldn't recommend it more highly as a therapy. It works for me but it's not for everyone. I would say however that for anyone who's been in this sort of arms corps or an active job in the Defence Force that you should continue to do that exercise. You'd be amazed at how enjoyable it is without having to do it every day. You do it at your own will and pace but it also has the other benefits of making you stronger. Without a doubt I would not be here if I didn't push myself to bigger challenges. I have completed an Iron Man and that was a huge rush and one of the biggest challenges I've had. The long distance works for me. I particularly love trail running. You're out in the hills and you're by yourself and it's just a battle against yourself then. Where you can run off your demons or just give in to the bad thoughts. It makes a big difference I think.
My advice to others
Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and move into new areas or something totally different. Due to everything that you've learnt in the Defence Force you'll be surprised how much you will stand out. Your work ethic, the skills developed and practices that you have learnt in the Defence Force that you think are probably mundane at the time, actually do stand out in the civilian world. You might not find it the first time. But don't be afraid of the challenge and to find different areas that you've never thought of before.
Accepting you have an issue, whether physically or mentally, and dealing with it is the key. You also need to be comfortable with yourself and happy where you are at the moment. Don't go into looking for work without being comfortable that you are fully rehabilitated and that you can handle the extra stress that work can bring.
Knowledge is power. The more you learn about whatever condition or injury you have the better off you'll be. With regards to DVA, again, knowledge is power. Read through everything you're entitled to and once you understand what you can actually get your life becomes a lot easier. If you are struggling with that side of things talk to an advocate or get someone to help you.
Keep pushing forward. It definitely isn't easy. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.