ADF personnel pictured at Amberley air base this year ahead of deployment to Afghanistan.
ADF personnel pictured at Amberley air base this year ahead of deployment to Afghanistan. David Nielsen

Young veterans call for RSL to modernise

THE military isn't terribly good at preparing discharged soldiers for civilian life and the RSL needs to modernise in order to meet the needs of contemporary veterans.

These were the strong messages to come out of a "contemporary veterans and families" forum held by the RSL at the Lismore Workers Club on Saturday.

The forum was organised by Andrew Johnstone, a retired major who saw service in East Timor and Iraq and also as a UN observer in the Middle East. He is now the chairman of a new young veterans outreach group and one of the driving forces to regenerate the RSL and make it more relevant to the men who have served since the first Gulf War.

JAMIE TANNER'S STRUGGLE AFTER AFGHANISTAN

One of the local initiatives he is involved with is a fortnightly "coffee club" at cafe in South Lismore.

It allows young veterans a chance to get together and debrief, share experiences and problems in an environment that is conducive to conversation, without alcohol.

"That's been one of the key successes of the program, but it's so simple," Andrew said.

The forum was attended by some top brass including RSL national president Ken Doolan and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Veteran's Affairs Jennifer Collins, as well as local MPs Thomas George and Janelle Saffin.

But it was having the partners and kids of returned soldiers in attendance that gave Mr Johnson the greatest reason to celebrate the success of the day.

"That's what it's all about, getting families involved at all levels," he said.

RSL president Ken Doolan said the RSL had been around for 100 years but was now in a "transition phase".

"We need to look to the future and get the younger vets involved," he said

 

CONTEMPORARY VETERANS: Jamie Tanner and Andrew Johnstone – changing the face of the RSL.
CONTEMPORARY VETERANS: Jamie Tanner and Andrew Johnstone – changing the face of the RSL. Andy Parks

A VETERAN'S STORY

 

JAMIE TANNER served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan in an 11-year career as an infantry soldier.

He discharged from the army after returning from his second tour of Afghanistan, when his marriage broke down and he was looking at a being sent away from his kids for another three-year posting.

He said after making the decision to leave he was made to feel as though he was "turning his back on the army and the last 11 years didn't count for anything".

"I loved my career in the army, but any parent will tell you that being with your kids is the most important thing," he said.

Coming back from Afghanistan I was physically and mentally a shadow of my former self

Jamie said you can leave most jobs with two weeks' notice, but the six-month period it takes to discharge from the army is a trying time.

He also described living conditions in Afghanistan where he would often go weeks without a shower, exist on one meal a day, and burn human excrement as just part of the daily chores.

"Coming back from Afghanistan I was physically and mentally a shadow of my former self," he said.

Jamie said there were a lot of necessary hoops to jump through before leaving the army, but at no stage of the difficult process did he see anyone from the Department of Veterans' Affairs or the RSL to talk to him about his entitlements or support services available.

After being in situations where he was commanding teams of infantry soldiers, air crews and a range of support crews, he suddenly found his skills weren't needed in civilian society and was forced to take on an apprenticeship as an electrical overhead linesman.

Jamie touched on the stress and anxiety that most ex-servicemen experience after seeing active combat and the effects that can have on their loved ones back home.

"I think prevention is better than cure and we need to prepare our soldiers a lot better for the transition to civilian life," he said.


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