David Savage AM, served as an AusAID Stabilisation Advisor with the Coalition’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan from 2011-12. He became Australia’s first civilian casualty in Afghanistan when his patrol was attacked by a child suicide bomber. He was previously with the Australian Federal Police for 20 years where he served on several overseas UN Peacekeeping Operations including Mozambique and East Timor. He then joined the United Nations, as a Human Rights and War Crimes investigator. He has also worked for the International Crisis Group, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and other organisations throughout South, and South East Asia. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at The Australian National University. David was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2014 for his work in International Relations, Peacekeeping and Human Rights Investigations. David was an ACT finalist in the 2015 Australian of the Year awards.
Todd Berry served in the Australian Army for 18 years, joining in 1989 straight after completing high school. He was initially posted to Townsville and then travelled to Canberra for Officer Training at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Graduating as a Lieutenant he was initially posted to Sydney, with additional regimental postings in Singleton and Perth. Whilst with the 5th/7th Battalion in Sydney he was on a four-month rotation to Malaysia when 5 Australian soldiers were killed in a motor vehicle accident. He was awarded a Chief of Army Commendation for his actions at the accident site and recovering the bodies back to Australia. He returned to Malaysia in 1998 and 1999 on an exchange posting, where he was an instructor at the Royal Military College, Malaysia. He spent most mornings and afternoons driving past the site of the accident, which had a dramatic effect on his mental health. The trauma and the stress of this incident, the repeated visits to the site, and being deployed to East Timor as a Company Commander with the regular Commando unit after Malaysia, eventually led to his discharge from the Army with post-traumatic stress disorder. This affected his family relationships, his physical and mental wellbeing, and his future career options. Following years of struggling with PTSD, Todd joined Soldier On as a volunteer. Slowly but surely, he found himself participating in activities such as PT sessions and Yoga classes. Todd has a keen interest in military history, inspired by his time in South-East Asia, and was given the opportunity to join a Soldier On trek to Sandakan. Following in the footsteps of WWII prisoners of war, Todd and a group of Australian veterans used the trek as a component of their rehabilitation. Since the trek, Todd has completed a number of physical challenges, including Tough Mudder, several Half Ironman triathlons, the New York marathon, and an Ultra Marathon of 100km. For Todd the trek at Sandakan was a turning point- it gave him his spark back. Todd has also become a pioneer for Yoga for veterans, having adopted the practice with enthusiasm. Using it as a part of his rehabilitation, he says that exercise and mindfulness have made a significant contribution to his recovery, and will continue to do so in to the future. He is currently teaching trauma aware yoga classes and is an ambassador for Soldier On and Frontline Yoga. Since seperating from the ADF he has completed a Bachelor of Administrative Leadership, a Master of Management, and a Graduate Diploma of Psychological Science. Todd is married to Suzy and he is an author and sought after public speaker.
Jessica Love was born in Toowoomba in 2001, and is the daughter of Sandi and Shaun Love. She is one of three children, with one older and younger brother. She is an author of two children’s books, ‘Soon’ and most recently ‘Sometimes’ and is a Soldier On Family and Service Ambassador. Jess has moved seven times, six of those moves occuring in nine years. Her father deployed twice, once for seven months in Iraq, and the other for 13 months and it was these deployments that served as the inspiration for the two books. Jess is an accomplished study, having completed five university levels subjects by age 16, as well as a Certificate Three in Fine Arts. She is an active member of the Scouting movement, as a Venturer and Joey leader, and is a recipient of the Australian Scouting Medallion. She is currently working toward her Queen’s Scout Award. In 2014 Jess penned ‘Soon’ as part of a school assignment. This reflected on her feelings while her father was deployed to the Sinai Peninsula and tells of the way children deal with separation. Her efforts were recognised through Defence Health who published the book in 2015. Jess was awarded the Chief of Defence Force Commendation in 2015 for her efforts supporting Defence families. Jess has recently completed ‘Sometimes’ a reflection of children dealing with separation, again sponsored by Defence Health.Jess aims at starting a Nurse/Paramedic double degree in 2018 continuing her service to others.
Wing Commander Sharon Bown (Ret’d) was appointed as a Service Ambassador to Soldier On in 2016. Sharon served as a Nursing Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force for 16 years, with deployments to Timor-Leste in 2000 and 2004; Afghanistan in 2008 as Officer-in-Charge of the Australian Medical Task Force in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. She was also involved in various aeromedical evacuation tasks, including Papua New Guinea in 2001, Solomon Islands in 2003 and Bali, following the terrorist bombings in 2005. Sharon was seriously injured in a helicopter crash in Timor-Leste in 2004, but fought to continue to serve, despite her injuries, until September 2015. As a result of her personal experience of service and her role in providing care for Australian Defence Force personnel and their families in Australia and overseas, Sharon is a passionate advocate within the field of Military and Veteran’s Health, and demonstrates a unique insight into the welfare and healthcare needs of those adversely affected by their service. Sharon is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Psychological Science, pursuing her interest in exploring the effects of service. Sharon is the author of ‘One Woman’s War and Peace: a nurse’s journey in the Royal Australian Air Force’, is a Member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and a Member of the Board of the Veterans’ Film Festival. Sharon became a Soldier On Ambassador to assist fellow veterans to navigate their journey beyond service.
In 1997 Sarah Watson commenced Officer Training at ADFA and graduated with a BA Politics. In December 2000, following a year at the Royal Military College Duntroon, she was commissioned into the Australian Intelligence Corps where she served in several Intelligence Roles within the Australian Army including in Iraq in 2006/07. As a result of her service, Sarah was diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder and was subsequently medically discharged from the Army in 2015. During this time, Sarah heard about Soldier On. After gaining a position in the Soldier On team that was to compete in the Trois Étapes cycling race in the Italian Dolomite, Sarah was provided with the focus and drive to pull herself out of the black hole she was in. Whilst training, she and fellow teammates, including much loved Aussie celebrities Hamish Blake and Cadel Evan, forged an unbreakable bond, and are all still in touch and look out for each other. Competing in this event gave Sarah a new passion and sport – cycling! As a result of the Soldier On activity, she has entered many cycling events and races. Currently, Sarah is in training for the 2017 Invictus Games in Canada with her main sporting event being the Cycling Time Trial and Criterium. Sarah continues to be a spokesperson for Soldier On, speaking about her journey to audiences throughout Australia. This has provided her the opportunity to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the military and wider community and hopefully give hope to others who may be suffering.
A member of the Australian Army for 25 years, Dennis was diagnosed with a serious illness, known as Group A Streptococcus Toxic Shock Syndrome and multi-organ failure, while posted to Townsville in 2008. The illness ultimately resulted in him having both legs amputated below the knee. As part of his rehabilitation, Dennis participated in the ADF Adaptive Sporting Program, and have also competed in the 2014 and 2016 Invictus Games, holding state and national records in Seated Shot Put, Javelin and Discus disciplines. Dennis is now an active member of his local sporting community in the Albury/Wodonga region, coaching serving and ex-serving members in Wheelchair Basketball and Rugby while participating in a range of other adaptive sports. He believes there is an adaptive sport out there for everyone, even those without injuries or medical conditions. Dennis is passionate about helping veterans and their families, and believes the key is to participate with family, mates, friends and the community.
When Emma’s husband, James, returned from Afghanistan, she noticed he was different in many ways. His fun loving carefree temperament had changed to short-tempered and very difficult to live with. He would isolate himself from his family and threw himself into work and surfing. Things became difficult for Emma and James, and their marriage was suffering. He had visited one or two Army psychologists but walked out feeling angrier than when he went in. He refused to talk to Emma about his experiences. After seeing a Soldier On Facebook post, Emma called them in desperation. They arranged a meeting with another combat experienced and respected returned serviceman. After this meeting, Emma saw her husband smile for the first time in years, as if a load had been lifted from his shoulders. This was just the beginning in his journey towards recovery and reintegration. Emma is passionate about supporting Soldier On so that they can continue to support future generations of returned servicemen and women, their partners and their families.
James enlisted in the Regular Army in 1996 and at that time was posted to Singleton Townsville. In 1999 he was posted to 4RAR (Commando) as a Company medic and was deployed to East Timor in 2001. In 2004 he left the Regular Army to join the New South Wales Ambulance Service, but remained an active reserve member with the 1st Commando Regiment. In 2007 he was deployed to TAGE and Afghanistan SOTG rotation V111 in 2009. It was on his return home that he had trouble fitting back into home life. Loud noises and crowds made James feel very uncomfortable and he was quick to anger. James went from the life of the party to being a recluse and found the only time I felt happy was when I was surfing. James’ wife put him in contact with a Soldier On representative, and it was during this meeting that Soldier On offered James and his family a surfing holiday with other Veterans affected by their service. It was the first time since his deployment that they had been on a family holiday. It was this holiday that was the catalyst for James to seek the help he needed to become well again. James continues to represent Soldier On in many ways at engagements.
Jordan discharged from the Army after 5 years’ service, including an operational tour to Afghanistan. Jordan said his experiences as a soldier combined with prolonged unemployment and financial stress, as well as a lack of direction in life, contributed to his declining mental state.“I had always wanted to join the Army, but I never gave any thought to what happens after. My decision to discharge was sudden, and I was ill prepared for the challenges of civilian life. I didn’t have a job to go to, or even a direction to follow. As a result, I developed severe depression and anxiety.”
“My partner and I led a nomadic life after I left the Army. We moved across country four times in two years chasing employment opportunities and for various other reasons,” he said. “I can [now] recognise that there were deeper issues that I was trying to avoid.”“It was only through the support of my partner that I eventually confronted the reality that I was not well, and that I needed help.”
Jordan and his partner made the decision to move to Canberra to access support offered by Soldier On. Jordan credits Soldier On with putting him in touch with counselling services and helping him gain meaningful employment in an industry he was interested in.“I now work as an Associate for PwC, after completing a 12 month Veterans Internship. The internship is designed to assist transitioning veterans establish a new career and build new skills.” he said. Jordan is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Politics and International Relations. PwC offers flexible working arrangements, which greatly assist with his study schedule.“My experiences in the Army gave me some valuable experiences, ones that I’ll never forget. I hope to use the skills and experiences I’ve gained to help other Veterans who may be facing similar issues.”*Jordan joined the Australian Army in 2009. He was deployed to Afghanistan within Mentoring Task Force 2, where he served in a force protection platoon that protected Australian mentoring teams as they trained the Afghan National Army. On returning to Australia, he continued to serve in 5RAR until his discharge in 2014.
Gabrielle met Jordan at just 19 in his very first week into his Darwin posting. Jordon’s ability to make her laugh won her over, and the rest as they say is history. In the last 8 years, Jordan and Gabrielle have experienced the ups and downs of military life, including a 10 months deployment to Afghanistan, several more months apart for deployment preparation training, many interstate moves and ‘fresh starts’ away from family friends. Jordan discharged from the Australia Defence Force in June 2015 to explore his potential and build a career as a civilian. He was adamant to continue contributing to the community and to his and Gabrielle’s future, through his next employment. In attempts to assist Jordan in the pursuit of his new career, Gabrielle said goodbye to her family and job in media, and together they packed up our life and headed for NSW…then WA…. Then back to NT, all before settling in the ACT. Jordan and Gabrielle started to find stability since Jordan’s discharge in June 2013, largely due to, “the welcome and ongoing support that we received from Soldier On Org.” This support ranged from social and mental health support, to education and employment support. Whilst their personal journey was at times hard and confronting, and remains a continued challenge for the both of them, becoming a part of the Soldier On community has given them the chance to build a life and future to get excited about.
“It has allowed us to regain our energy and passion for life and personal development. We have both gained meaningful employment in careers that we love. We are proud, and look forward to our future. This sense of self-fulfillment seems like such a trivial concept that at 20, we took for granted. It is only when we experienced life without a sense of purpose and direction that we realise just how powerful and paramount it is. I feel extremely lucky and blessed to have been fortunate enough to be involved in Soldier on. More than this, I feel even luckier to have experienced this Journey with Jordan. Despite the many trials and tribulations we have encountered in the past 8 years, his friendship and commitment to himself, and me, and our partnership is the reason I believe the story we share is a successful one. I cannot recommend or thank Soldier On enough for supporting Jordan and I. We are so honoured to have been provided this incredible honour and opportunity to share our journey and represent Soldier On and the message they share. I hope that our journey reaches and resonates other people who find themselves in a similar situation. Because it so worth it. And it really does get so much better.”
Ronit Sher is an educator and team leader at one of Victoria’s leading private schools, where she has been employed for the last 11 years. She is qualified to teach both Special Education and LOTE (Language Other Than English). Prior to migrating to Australia, she was an Officer in the Israeli Defence Force before earning her Bachelor of Education degree and teaching in Israel. Ronit is an avid volunteer who is dedicated to supporting charitable causes in our community. She is committed to assisting military veterans and their families, in appreciation of their sacrifices and ongoing challenges and struggles that they face on a daily basis. Ronit is the sister-in-law of PTE Gregory Sher, who was Killed in Afghanistan in 2009. She is married to an ADF Reservist and is a devoted mother of 3 small children.
Signalman Gary Wilson is a Soldier in the Australian Army. He has been a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for 18 years. Commencing his career with the Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, he deployed to East Timor in 2000 and 2002. In 2005, Gary transferred Corps becoming an Electronic Warfare Operator with the Royal Australian Corps of Signals. His time as and Electronic Warfare Operator saw him provide strategic support to the Australian Government and the ADF before posting into the 2nd Commando Regiment. In 2010 Gary deployed to Afghanistan with the Special Operations Task Group. Just 10 days before the end of his deployment Gary sustained life threatening injuries. At first, Gary wasn’t expected to survive, extensive brain injuries saw him fall into a coma. He has re-learnt everything from walking to talking and most importantly regained his independence. Gary has since become a Service Ambassador for Soldier On and will soon discharge from the ADF. Gary has represented Australia twice at the United States Marine Corps trials and at the 2016 & 2017 INVICTUS Games, winning a Bronze Medal in seated discus in Toronto. Gary’s journey of recovery is a story of resilience, determination, love, and support. His recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, continually defying the odds stacked against him.