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Think Piece – With Thanks To Our Quiet Achievers

Friday 10 July, 2015

David EverittIn this Centenary of Anzac a myriad of commemorative events are in full swing with many more to come. It’s a good time to be an Australian and it’s an even better time to be a veteran, an ex-service person or a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Australian society is commemorating a century of military service. Commemorations are being undertaken with national fervour, passionate politicians and cheering crowds.

When the cheering has stopped, the flag waving has ceased and the influence of considerable cheer has worn off, normality returns. This is when the quiet achievers amongst us start their work. We know who they are; our partners, carers, mums, dads, brothers, sisters, mates and the neighbour next door.

This is not new. Ex-servicemen and women have enjoyed care from their loved ones, through thick and thin; loving, hurting, sharing, coaxing, but most of all supporting care.

The world, and society in which we live, has changed markedly over the last 100 years and we now understand the unintended consequences of war and conflicts; that they leave us with deferred liabilities. Indeed, some ex-service personnel find themselves questioning their very existence.

Interestingly, when asked about their existence the response is often supportive of their quiet achiever with reflections about where they might have been without them – “Probably dead;” “I would have suicided by now;” “a terrible alcoholic;” “on drugs;” “a gambler;” “in the gutter or on the streets” or “it is too painful to even think about – I hate to think where I would be”.

The response from wives, partners and carers is to downplay their role. One brave lady wrote the following:

When my husband was med discharged from the Army in 2008, I was torn. On one hand, I would finally have my husband home, working a Monday to Friday office job and no more stress or separation. On the other hand, I knew that he was being forced to leave a job that he loved and wasn’t ready to leave.

At first, things were good. He was home by 4.30pm each night and was able to help me with the children. Soon after, we found out that we were expecting another child. Things were looking good. Then they began to change as the PTSD started to show itself and later, the breakdown of his body physically.

My role as a carer was gradual and I really didn’t see it for what it was. I found myself taking on more of the household chores and caring for the children as he began to withdraw. I attended many functions with the children on my own as he was not in the right frame of mind to socialise.

Comments were often made in regards to his absence and it was easier to blame one of his many physical ailments. As time went on and his mental and physical state continued to deteriorate, I took on more of the more traditional ‘male tasks’, such as mowing lawns, gardening and clearing gutters.

At this point in our lives, my husband is in a better place than before mentally, but his physical ability is unpredictable. Some days he can work outdoors on his many projects. Other days, he is laid up on the couch with a blanket and unable to leave the house. These are the hardest days. I can’t do anything to relieve his pain. The best I can do is make sure he is as comfortable as possible, bring him painkillers and make him coffee. I try to keep the kids entertained so as they do not annoy him too much as I can see he is already frustrated by his immobility. Again, I find myself venturing with the children out alone.

I am very fortunate that even with all the issues he must deal with on a daily basis, he is still going to work in order to support his family. I see my role as keeping our house in order so that he has few tasks when he is home. I make sure that his medications are always at hand and above all, I am his sounding board for the good and the bad. 

Wives, mothers, carers – those quiet achievers – so often women.  What is their reward? How do we show our appreciation? How do we recognise them? The question is open to individuals and society as a whole to answer. In my view, in many cases it is the quiet achiever who is the real hero.  Maybe they did not go to war, but they’re fighting a different war  – one that can only be understood by those who have lived it.

In this Anzac Centenary we must ask ourselves where we would be without these quiet achievers. We must ensure that in answering this question we appreciate just how crucial they have been and continue to be for our Veterans and for our Australian community as a whole.

David was a National Serviceman who saw operational service in Vietnam with 9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors of RSL CARE (SA), a foundation member of the Veterans Health Advisory Council and a board member of the RSL-SA and Veterans Advisory Council. David has a strong background in transformational leadership, management and aged care.

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