47% of transitioned veterans have experienced mental health challenges within 12mths of discharge yet only a quarter receive care*. They represent a high risk for homelessness and suicide.
At FDC, we’re made up of a diverse group of people, including those who have served in the armed forces. Below, four people connected to the FDC family share their stories of their time in defence and why it is important to recognise and support the transition of those when they return from service.
Craftsman (CFN) Neal Smith helped develop the life-saving Bushmaster vehicle with Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He’s also FDC’s HSEQ Manager in QLD.
The contribution the defence force makes to Australia is significant and complex. It produces great people, and for those who enlist, it delivers experiences you might never have dreamt of. As a kid growing up on the Central Coast it’s amazing to think of the places I’ve been, especially considering I never had any aspirations to join the military.
I was hanging out in Newcastle after I finished high school, when I walked past the recruiting centre. Two weeks later I was in the army. It was a huge culture shock in many ways – from my casual upbringing, with long hair and long days at the beach, to a totally different way of life, but it was unbelievably rewarding.
Army life begins
I started as a Private in an infantry battalion, not just any infantry battalion but D Coy, 6 RAR. You will know this unit from the Battle of Long Tan (in Vietnam), Redgum Song “I was only nineteen and the recent movie “Danger Close”
From there it was a Corps transfer into RAEME (Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) where I did my heavy vehicle diesel mechanic training. As a Craftsman and vehicle mechanic, my main role was keeping all the military vehicles safe and serviceable. The event I was most proud of was developing the Bushmaster vehicle.
We had to test the vehicle, modify and develop it as well as write all the repair manuals like how to take the engine out – and that became the defence document. To see that vehicle go to Iraq and Afghanistan and know it was saving lives was really special. Hundreds of people were dying every day because their vehicles didn’t have the capabilities of the Bushmaster. The development of the Bushmaster meant that our guys were surviving those blasts.
A change of scenery
It was the late ‘90s, early 2000s and Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq were still some time off. We played a role in Iraq, but not like we did later. I was sent to Bougainville, the easternmost island of Papua New Guinea in the Solomon Sea as part of a peace monitoring group, during the civil war there. We were unarmed, and even though I was a mechanic, our job was to get the local heavily armed tribes to hand over their weapons. It’s a bit scary when you think about it, but it was one of the most beautiful places, with the most beautiful people I’ve ever experienced in my life. It became common to walk through the jungle and find WW2 Sherman tanks or be flying in a chopper and see a Japanese Zero fighter aircraft that had crashed into a reef.
In the army, you’re always travelling. I did about 11 moves in nine years, which meant you always got to see something different. From 2000 to 2004, I spent about 40 weeks a year away. I got married in 2000 and was spending less than 10 weeks a year at home, which was one of the reasons I returned to civilian life. I’m passionate about the defence force, have a long family history of military service and I am proud of what I was able to achieve. The contribution it makes to Australia is significant.
We have so many national treasures but just like our WW1 and WW2 vets, their ranks are rapidly thinning and many of them still carry the physical and mental scars to this day. The Vietnam War is of huge importance to me – the way our Vietnam Vets came home, were treated so badly and disrespectfully is something I’ve been deeply affected by. There’s a number of lines in the movie A Few Good Men, where Jack Nicholson’s character says something like, “You can’t handle the truth … you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall” and “You sleep safely at night under a blanket of freedom I provide…and then question the manner in which I provide it”.
Demi Moore’s character is asked “why do you like them so much” (referring to two accused soldiers) and says “because they stand on the wall and say nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch”.
I know it’s just a Hollywood movie, but there’s truth in that and all military people have a different understanding of the deeper subtext of that movie than non-military people.
Building a new career
When I joined FDC in 2010 I was given the opportunity as a labourer before becoming the HSEQ Manager – that’s Health and Safety Quality, and Environmental. I’d been in the army handling weapons, so there was definitely an element of safety ingrained in me.
My role within FDC is to guide, educate, and mentor our teams to not only make sure that they all go home safely at the end of the day, but to educate and empower them to follow our systems and processes, not because they have to but because they see the value in what we do and want to do it. It’s how we do business. “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” Benjamin Franklin.
I feel very lucky to have joined FDC. There’s been a lot of invaluable mentoring and opportunities to grow and develop. Just like when I was in the army, I’ve always felt like I was part of something here. I’ve been with FDC for over 10 years now and have enjoyed every second of it. It’s very rare for a company that focuses so much on support, development, charity and contribution to the community. We’re a construction company, but more than that, we’re a family. It true what we say, “The more we contribute to your success the more we contribute to our own”.
Corporal Matthew Navin, Ret. spent 8 years in the army including deployment in Afghanistan, today he is a Site Manager for FDC in NSW.
I was in the Army for about eight years all up. My career in defence was part-time at first before I enrolled full-time service, and I was lucky in a way, because when I was ready to leave, the transition was fairly easy for me. If you spend a long time in defence, it can become a lot more difficult to join society again as a civilian, so it’s good to know there’s support out there for those who need it.
I was in cadets when I was at school, and enlisted to the Army Reserve at the beginning of Uni. I’m not saying I’m an adrenalin junkie, but I like the feeling that something’s always happening and I enjoy working under pressure.
Climbing the ranks
I started my initial training as a recruit at Kapooka in 2003, posted to, 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers. I was a crewman driver of the M113A1 with the Army APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) and later a Cavalry Scout. I transferred to 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers as a Corporal and qualified on the Bushmaster PMV (Protected Mobility Vehicle) staying with the Army Reserves for about five years. At the same time, I was in construction, starting sprinkler fitting as a trade. Later, I transferred over to the B Squadron 3rd /4th Cavalry Regiment squadron, up in Townsville.
In 2008, I was given the opportunity to enroll full-time with my qualifications and training. I was a Corporal by then, and in 2009 I deployed to Afghanistan on Operation Slipper MRTF-2, until February 2010. That was my big stint which rounded out all my years of training and preparedness, after which I left the Army. I was happy with everything I’d achieved and was ready to move on to the next big chapter, to join civilian life again, travel and start a family.
A fulfilling career
I got back into construction in 2013. Stuart King, who also works for FDC, is a good mate of mine – we met in the Army. We joined the same Army Reserve Unit whilst both at Uni but he went down the medical support career path and I stayed with the Armoured Corps, with Armoured vehicles, cavalry scouts and as an NCO training on courses as an instructor. Stuart was already working in construction when I was discharged, and it’s thanks to him that I had an opportunity to join FDC in 2015. He suggested I get back into construction and it was a really good transition for me. It ties in well with military life, from the management structure, the hierarchy of responsibility, to the intensity of the environment.
Working in construction was really helpful for me because it kept me busy working sometimes 12 hour days, up to six days a week. I didn’t have an idle mind to dwell on things or ponder. I was able to process everything and adapt to my new life as I went along. I was learning new process all over again. Being in the army taught me to plan ahead. You have to be able to take instant action and respond straight away if something dynamic changes. On a construction site it’s similar, with all the different trades and complex tasks happening at once interacting with each other.
There are a lot of parallels between being in the military and working in construction in the sense that it can be quite demanding at times. When you’re in the military you do a lot of training and you work your way up through the ranks. In construction, you build from the ground up and there’s a real sense of achievement and completion. The sense of camaraderie and mateship is similar as well. My closest friends and my best mates are all ex-army. There’s a uniqueness in the experiences that we go through together, that creates a bond for life.
Captain Bruce Vivers served in the army for 14 years which took him everywhere from Pakistan and Afghanistan to joining the SASR. The QLD FDC Construction Manager is about to tackle 300km bike ride in support of veterans health.
I joined the army out of school and gave it the next 14 years of my life. I started at the Defence Force Academy for three years, finishing my officer training at the Royal Military College Duntroon. I graduated from there as a Lieutenant into the Corp of Royal Australian Engineers. After six months of engineering training, I was posted to 18 Field Squadron in Townsville, then went to Pakistan and Afghanistan with the United Nations contingent over there, helping the locals get rid of landmines.
When I returned to the School of Military Engineering in Sydney, I spent a year instructing mine warfare and training new engineer recruits. After a couple more years in Darwin at Northern Command, I joined the SASR (Special Air Service Regiment). In the SASR, I was in a high-performance unit for 5 years, which meant passing their incredibly strenuous selection course. Officers are rotated out of units, to keep them fresh, and give them different experiences, so when it looked like I might be heading for an office-based job in Canberra, I decided to see what else was out there.
A new direction
Being in the army really sets you up with a number of management and leadership skills. They call it imposed discipline – there are no alternatives but to turn up to places on time and do what you’re told, however, this develops your self-discipline. This definitely influenced the way I manage people. My engineering time in the army contributed directly to my management associated with the construction industry. I’ve been at FDC for about seven years now and it’s such a positive culture.
My transition to civilian life was more about missing the camaraderie than anything else. In the Military you go through a lot of arduous things with people, and that brings you together. You look after each other and look out for each other’s wellbeing. I was probably luckier than most, in that I was posted to East Timor for three months and I was in Pakistan with the demining in the early nineties. Sure, I was exposed to some reasonably stressful circumstances, but at the end of the day, I didn’t take anyone’s life. As I was not faced with those moral dilemmas, it limited my exposure to PTSD.
Cycling for a cause
Supporting veterans is a difficult thing in my mind because everyone has such different needs. Amongst my friends, there’s the whole spectrum of exposure to PTSD – mates that do need help, mates that don’t, mates that need help but don’t know it or are unwilling to accept it. Given that the issues are so complex, and there’s a whole gamut of aspects to cover, people do fall through the cracks. That’s where grass roots veteran support charities really make a difference.
In October I’m cycling 300 kilometres in two days to raise money for 4 Aussie Heroes during their annual Pedals ‘n Medals bike ride. I’ve only been cycling for about 6 weeks. James Hamer, (also from FDC) is a mad cyclist and was talking about the ride. He said, “You should do it – go on, you were in the military!” It’s a pretty daunting task, but he got at me once too often and I said, “Right – I’m in!”
On the ride, we’ll do 150km a day for the two days, and vertically, we’re going to be climbing 4,000 metres. I’ve been punishing myself on the bike for the last six weeks in training. But when it comes to the race, my strategy’s pretty simple: don’t give up – just keep turning those pedals.
This October our teams are supporting the below charities dedicated to improving the lives of our returned service people.
Wounded Heroes is a national charity providing front line crisis support to Australian servicemen and women who need it the most.
Among other great services, they provide emergency food (vouchers) and accommodation for high risk current and returned service personnel and their families.
4 Aussie Heroes recognises the gap in the rehabilitation process of military and first responder personnel, past and present who are struggling and suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues.
They offer an holistic, all-encompassing approach to the rehabilitation process that includes partners, children and carers.