MINEFIELD MOMENT: Soldier’s explosive turning point
DAVE Whalan knows the realities of war. He experienced it 10 times during his Army career and has relived it in his mind thousands of times since.
As a ammunition technician the former Warrant Officer could do his job in his sleep, but it wasn't until his last deployment to the Middle East standing surrounded by improvised explosive devices that he asked himself what am I doing?
With a loving wife and three sons back home, Mr Whalan said he was on a constant rotation of six month deployments followed by a six month break, only to repeat it again for years on end.
He lived for it, until his built up war resilience wore thin and caught him unawares.
"We hadn't even left the country (oversees) and I already knew I'd be on the next one," Mr Whalan said.
"It was everything. You want to test yourself out as a soldier and I got to do that every six months and it got to the point where it was addictive.
"I just remember standing out in the middle of this field with explosives everywhere and just going, what's the point to this right now.? I literally went back to my accommodation that night and just burst into tears for no reason whatsoever."
Mr Whalan said this moment in Iraq was a catalyst that would see him on an unexpected path of deep reflection and his exit from the Army after 24 years.
In retrospect, Mr Whalan said he identified points of concern after deployments from as early as 2000 when he returned from East Timor.
"Everyone just said it was normal and it seemed like the whole unit was doing the same with alcohol intake higher and living a lot more dangerously I guess," Mr Whalan said.
"It was the same when I returned from Iraq and there was no real education about what coming home looked like."
Mr Whalan said he's had to do a lot of deep soul searching to re-establish himself as a person outside of the military and find healthy coping skills for PTSD.
He said it was after a stern talking to by his wife who told him he needed to find a new passion that he returned to rugby and has spent recent years coaching junior and senior grades including the Western Suburbs Dragons 2020 first grade team.
"When I sat back I realised I had no friends outside of work and that was a lonely place to be in," he said.
"I'd given 24 odd years to this machine but I'd come out as nobody and I guess that's where I turned to Rugby.
"I could feel that fire come alive in me and prior to I'd struggle to even leave the house but here I was packing the car and at the field 40 minutes early."
Mr Whalan said he's spent years rebuilding relationships with his children and riding the waves of mental health but having a purpose and finding joy in rugby and teamwork has put him on the trajectory he's now on.
"I couldn't find the positive in anything and I hated that feeling so I really have to make a conscious effort with that," he said.
"There's been a lot of looking inward.
"I might have a chest full of medals in the RSL but that doesn't count as anything if I'm not a good man and that's what I had to learn."