Thick, acrid smoke filled my lungs when we hit the roadside bomb. It was 2011 and I had only been in Afghanistan for a month, when I felt my body compress in the blast wave that followed the explosion.
As a cavalryman in the Australian Army I drove armoured vehicles. I was doing the job I loved.
Ever since my Year Six teacher at Aberfoyle Hub School had told me about the Light Horse in WWI I’d been fascinated. When I grew up, I was determined to wear the cavalryman’s hallmark: emu plumes on a slouch hat. I’ll always remember the teacher who told me what it meant, his name was Mr. Lock.
Fast forward ten years later, and I was ‘living the dream’. I was a trooper in the Army. I’d joined up at 18 and experienced jungle training in Malaysia, before I was deployed to Afghanistan to join the fight against the Taliban.
As the lead driver in our convoy, I took the job seriously. We lost four of our mates on our tour and the threat of insider attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was always there. What I wasn’t prepared for was the aftermath, and the impact on my mental health.
I discharged from the Army in 2012 and one day I ‘detonated’. I use that word deliberately – I felt overwhelming anger and fell into depression. It took me six years to climb out of that hole. Along the way I learnt about community and how important it can be.
I found a place to live through RSL Care SA’s Andrew Russell Veteran Living program and set to work on getting myself on track. Like many veterans suffering from PTSD, I was self-medicating, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. I started studying psychology at Flinders University and became interested in my mental health. Then, unexpectedly, I was offered a job. It was the new start I needed.
Today, I work for RSL Care SA, looking after older blokes who’ve also experienced the reality of war. I have an assistance dog, Gracie, and we hang out together every day. I also volunteer in the veteran community, helping soldiers who are also looking for a new start.
After losing myself for a while and being away, it’s great to come home.