Those of you who know me, will know my occupation as a manager in the provsion of paramedical services. You may not be aware however, that I still like to work at the coalface and do on-road shifts as the opportunity arises.
So it was that I worked a 12 hour night shift at a station about 90km from my usual workplace recently. Moreover, I tend not to wear my rank when I’m doing these shifts so as better to fit into the team and to put the other person at ease. My partner for the night was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who I knew fairly well and we felt quite comfortable in each other’s company. Being a former serviceman myself, there was a certain understanding and comfort between us.
The phone rang at 0200, and off we went to call 75km from the station we were based at. It was going to take us an hour to get there!
Imagine this. Two ex-serviceman, a long drive along a country road in the early hours of the morning. The conversation turned to that of military service. As stated my partner had recently completed a 9 month tour of Afghanistan and we got to talk about what it means to serve one’s country, the effect that active service has on a soldier, and what happens upon their return from active service, and so on.
I asked him what were his biggest observations after serving in Afghanistan as a reserve member of Australia’s elite special forces. His reply was three-fold.
- After being “in harm’s way” for the duration of his tour, and putting life and limb at risk for the service of his country, he was dismayed at how many people of his own age were happy to “ride the welfare state” here at home. It perhaps called him to question the reason for doing what he had done to serve his country. Before becoming a paramedic, he thought that “pensioners” were all old people.
- He was possibly equally critical of his fellow servicemen who upon their return from active service were also happy to “milk” the system for all the benefits available for returned veterans, whether thay were entitled or not.
- Most importantly, he stated that he found it difficult to fit back into his “day” job, and to talk about his his experiences, because not many people (mostly other servicemen) can appreciate or understand what he had experienced during his tour of duty.
As we travelled, he opened up somewhat and we talked about many things to do with service and the ongoing effects that service can have on the individual. I listened a lot, with a comment here or there, and offered support wherever I could. He seemed happy to talk, as I was happy to listen. He confided that he was seeking professional assistance and had recently resumed service as a reservist with the Army. He was NOT seeking further tours of active service.
I felt privileged and honoured that he had confided in me, and I hope I was able to offer that which he sought. At the end of the shift we parted with a firm hand shake and an unspoken understanding of what had taken place.