9 November 2022

Helping our brave men and women Soldier On

| Sally Hopman
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Garth, the 2022 ambassador for Soldier On, has told his story about fighting depression in the hope it will help others in the military. Photo: Soldier On.

After Garth returned from his second tour of Iraq, he knew he needed help.

The Australian Army veteran, who graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in Canberra in 1992, knew what it was like to struggle with his demons. He had been posted to the 5th/7th Battalion (Mechanised) as a platoon commander, but while training in Malaysia he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that claimed the lives of five of his men and severely injured seven others.

Before the tragedy, Garth had set his sights on a long career in the defence force, but the incident put paid to that. He voluntary discharged in 1995 and the young soldier spent the next nine years going from job to job, carrying mental health issues that he couldn’t understand or deal with.

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But in 2004 he decided to return to the defence force, re-enlisting in the hope that his passion for the military would return. But it didn’t. After a second tour of Iraq, he came home in 2007: his mental and physical state had deteriorated to a point where he knew he really needed help.

“In the army, you’re told to put up or shut up,” Garth said. “I had the privilege of having some rank, being ‘reasonably intelligent’, yet I found it very difficult to ask for help. What about all the others who don’t have the agency to ask for help?

“We have to take ownership of our own direction. No-one else can do it for you.”

Today, Garth is a man on a mission. He is the ambassador for Soldier On, a not-for-profit support organisation for veterans and their families, providing health and wellbeing services, employment support and, above all, resilience.

But as a non-profit, it needs help. This Wednesday, 9 November, is Matched Giving Day 2022 for Soldier On, with every donation matched by one of its greatest supporters, the McKie family. All money raised will go towards Soldier On programs and activities to help service people in need.

Garth knows only too well what it’s like for today’s veterans and their families. Before he was medically discharged in 2009, he had been living with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), anxiety and depression for 15 years, but found the treatment, transition and rehabilitation for veterans at the time to be difficult.

In the military, he said, it’s all about not letting your mates down. It’s about self-sacrifice.

“If you look at the award winners, a lot of those are posthumous awards … guys who sometimes will do crazy things, knowing that they will die. That to die in the military is OK … it’s all skewed.

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“What it should be about is rebuilding, about self-esteem and self-image.”

For Garth, the breakthrough came when he established a good network around him. “A good GP, a good psychiatrist, people I could really talk to – and of course family.

“I still believe in the military but I believe it is especially important for the higher and middle-level ranks to try to better understand young soldiers.”

And his advice to young men and women starting a career in the defence forces? Have a Plan B.

“Most defence careers only have a life of about seven to eight years. You’re not going to be there forever, so start planning now where you see your future. By all means, give it your all while you’re in there, but remember, it won’t be forever.”

Fore more information about Soldier On, go to the website.

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