After leaving the Army, Owen Brady is creating a bright future thanks to Soldier On

It’s 1980s regional South Australia, and in Port Augusta, children have two choices: to stay in the town offensively nicknamed Porta Gutta, or get out. Owen Brady chose the latter.

As an Indigenous boy growing up in a town where there was little to do, Owen said he had no interest in drinking alcohol or adding to the already high youth crime rate.

However, despite having a tight-knit and supportive family, Owen said at school he was defined by teachers as “just another indigenous boy from Port Augusta with little prospects”.

He recalled sitting quietly in the classroom with his hand up, curious and eager to ask a question. The teacher paid him no attention, he said.

Ignored, he turned to the classroom window and looked out at the dry, red-hued landscape. The land he overlooked is the gateway to Australia’s vast interior, the land of his ancestors. It is land that once held great promise. A seed was planted in Owen’s imagination.   

Owen said he was eight years old when he decided his future was with the Australian Army, but what he did not realise then, sitting in his classroom, is the land of his ancestors would one day call him home to help preserve the natural habitat of his country.

“It was in primary school where I made the decision that I wanted to join the Army. I thought that they were tough and that it was very admirable, also so people would view me as a positive beacon of someone that helped break the stigma of negativity in my community,” Owen explained.

No longer the Indigenous kid refused a voice, after 16 years of service in the Royal Australian Signal Corp as a ‘Geek’, or information system technician, for Owen, now 40, the time has come to leave the Australian Army. It feels right. He is ready to reconnect with the land and his culture, return to Port Augusta and pursue his dream to study agriculture while starting a position in Adelaide with Soldier On Pledge Partner JLB-Yaran, mentoring young Indigenous professionals.

With the support of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) Veteran charity Soldier On, which takes a holistic approach to employment and education, Owen said his future was mapped out before he leaves the military in May.

Owen says he has always felt different. He is a self-confessed deep thinker, someone with “determination and spirit”.

A smile crosses Owen’s face when he describes himself as someone who prefers not to follow the crowd: “No one wants to be the Wiggles, everyone wants to be a rockstar…”

However, what became clear to Owen, is his infectious determination to not only be different, but to do things differently. He says “I’d rather be the Wiggles and do things differently, but my way.

“An opportunity without preparation is a missed opportunity, do the preparation and the opportunity will present itself.”

Medically retiring from the Army in May, Owen had meticulously planned his exit. His long-term goal after being discharged is to be a self-sufficient regenerative farmer in regional South Australia. Yet what Owen was unsure of, was how he could achieve this dream of building a future in regenerative agriculture.

Owen said the defining moment in his transition to civilian life was listening to a Soldier On education officer. “Soldier On spoke about the importance of staying connected once you leave the military,” Owen said. “It wasn’t until they spoke about education and university scholarships that my future finally clicked for me…learning and training and a means to do it, that’s what got me.”

Through Soldier On’s Pathways Program, Owen became one of the first participants to be mentored using the Career Construction Theory method. Introduced in 2021, the veteran-centric approach will help former military personnel draw on purpose and identity instead of seeking employment based on the skills they acquired in the ADF.

“Everyone spoke to me about a career in IT, this wasn’t for me,” Owen said. “I told Soldier On, I want to work in agriculture, I need to be outside and have that connection with nature and the elements; a career in IT would not satisfy my need to play an active role to regenerate my country.

“Soldier On did everything possible to help me get into university and to map out my future. Soldier On listened to what I am passionate about and where I see my future, they guided me to achieve this.”

Soldier On’s then Education Manager, Daniel Vincent, said: “[During] Owen’s journey through the Pathways Program he took the opportunity to make his transition as successful as possible, by looking at his purpose. Owen’s journey through career construction and discovering his purpose was one of the most inspiring moments.”

Daniel said Owen’s meticulous planning for life after the ADF is a credit to his personal drive and well-honed organisational skills.

“The best time to think about your transition is your first day of service. The next best time is now; this is one of the keys to career construction. His story is truly amazing, and I look forward to continuing being a part [of it],” he said.

The process was simple, Owen said. “Daniel suggested we map out my future goals and how he thought they could be achieved on a whiteboard. Soldier On did the rest.

“Soldier On took my ideas and where I see my future and helped me design a path to achieving my goals. They asked me what I wanted to achieve, not what their expectations of me were based on my military experience.”

National Psychology Services Manager for Soldier On, Joe Losinno said using the career construction method will help veterans map out their future career pathway and tailor the process to the Veteran’s future ambitions and goals.

“Career construction is a communication pathway for the veteran moving forward, it crystalises a life worth living and an ability to find an ethical self, led by values in the civilian world. It is not a directive; it is about the veteran. It is moving away from just writing resumes, it’s about building resumes.”

Owen said it was not until he attended the talk given by Soldier On that he felt that he was listened to and that he had a voice. The Indigenous boy discouraged from making future plans could now see his future studying at university and living off the land.

“I need to get back to Country and to my future ambitions, Soldier On has helped me achieve this. I was always passionate about the environment and animals. That is probably one of the main reasons driving me to become a regenerative farmer but preferably an environmental scientist.”

Owen said for anyone considering leaving the military, “Don’t be so quick on your decision to get out, go to the Soldier On information sessions, make an informed decision but don’t get out before knowing what you want to do.

“I am not the smartest person, but it does not mean I can’t learn new things, learn something you are interested in, that’s Soldier On and without their help and the opportunities they gave me I would not have applied to study agriculture at university. They presented me the idea and I ran with it, Owen said. 

Daniel Cooper, Operations Manager for Soldier On Pledge Partner JLB-Yaran said: “As a proud Indigenous and Veteran owned company, JLB-Yaran are passionate about assisting Indigenous Veterans such as Owen with employment outside uniform.

“Owen represents everything our company stands for. He is a proud Indigenous man who has served his country and he is now passionate about giving back to his community which he will be able to do as an Indigenous mentor in our Indigenous Development and Employment Program (IDEP).”

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