Lest we forget: Q + A with Soldier On

John Bale photo

April 25 marks ANZAC day, when the nation will pay its respects to all Australians who served and died in war and on operational service. 

In 2018, Army veterans continue to serve their country. In April and beyond - they continue to live with the experiences of their sacrifice. Many face challenges returning to civilian life, employment and full physical and mental health. 

Here, DCA talks to John Bale, veteran and the founder of Solider On, which offers support services for returning service people and their families, including career assistance and employment opportunities.

The work they do serves as a powerful reminder: lest we forget. Not then. And especially not now. 

John, why did you, personally, found Soldier On? 

A close friend of mine, Lieutenant Michael Fussell, was killed in 2008, in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast in Afghanistan. I saw how this tragedy affected the whole community back in Armidale (where Fuss and I grew up) and of course, those who were with Fuss when the incident happened and were struggling back home. Danielle Clout, Cavin Wilson and I identified that there really was no single organisation focused on supporting younger service personnel, and embracing the community in that support.

That’s why we launched Soldier On in 2012. When it was founded, approximately 290,000 people had served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) since 1990.

It's important to acknowledge that it is not just those who have deployed who need support, and that support is not always for mental health concerns. It’s also not always the service person themselves, it can often be family that needs support. It’s why we have a holistic approach to the services we provide in employment and education, mental health and social support.

Soldier On is about securing the futures of those who have served us, and their families. Sometimes a hand up is what is really needed - not a hand out.

What challenges do service personnel face upon return, specifically when finding employment in other sectors?

So we’ve worked a lot on our employment program over the last 18 months and feedback from participants continues to show that the translation of service skills to the civilian workforce is the biggest barrier to employment. This issue has two sides. Often civilian employers can’t speak ‘military’ or ‘service skills’ and serving personnel can’t talk ‘civilian’ when it comes to the workplace. While there can be some comfort in working for organisations that work back into Defence, there are still complexities working outside of the service environment.

There’s no question that the service environment is very different to the civilian workforce, but we aim to work with individuals, and employers, to ease this transition. It’s why we are holding networking events across the country to allow individuals to talk directly with employers about potential roles and how they may fit in to each organisation. There is a strong public focus on the employment of service personnel now and I hope that this does not change any time soon.

What unique skills do service personnel bring?

You will often hear they're good leaders, highly motivated, punctual and well presented. While these are all very true, there are so many more skills these men and women bring to the workforce. Their skills may be more technical, such as cyber analytics, engineering in various fields, ICT based skills or they may be more around people management, change management and policy development.

Just because an individual has worn one uniform, does not mean that throughout their career, they have only done one job. More importantly, everyone is different and should be treated as such by employers, just as a civilian applicant would be.

John, you've written about the de-stigmatisation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Australian Army. What should employers know to continue de-stigmatisation outside the Army?

The most important message to get out there is that just because someone has worn a uniform, regardless if it is Army, Navy, Airforce or other agency, it does not mean that they have a mental health condition, or that they are unable to manage a condition and be an active member of society and the workforce.

While we cannot ignore that there are individuals out there who are unable to work and do need a greater level of complex support, this number is far lower than the public may think. Even those who are in this situation, still need to be seen as valued members of the community and encouraged to connect with others and prevent isolation. This can be done through activities or volunteering.

What’s the biggest misconception people have of Soldier On and the work they do?

That Soldier On only supports those who have served in the Army. I can see how this misconception has come about, as we worked very heavily with Army personnel, particularly in the early days, and our logo depicted this. We actually support all ADF services and late last year, we expanded our services to support those in the greater national security community. So this includes Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other security agencies.

Last year, we updated our brand and changed our logo. This was to help the community to see that we are an inclusive organisation that supports all national service personnel who have served our nation, side by side with the ADF.

How can the businesses better support modern-day veterans?

Open minds and doors. Provide greater opportunities and take the steps to learn more about what these men and women can bring to your organisation, and the community as a whole.

If you want to support service personnel on ANZAC day and beyond, find out more and get in touch with Soldier On here. 




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