Soldier On Ambassadors all have unique stories to tell
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. David was previously with the Australian Federal Police for 20 years where he served on several overseas UN Peacekeeping Operations including Mozambique and East Timor, before joining 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, and 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 and was an ACT finalist in the 2015 Australian of the Year awards.
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 student, having completed five university level 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 to start a Nurse/Paramedic double degree in 2018 continuing her service to others.
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 Evans, 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. Sarah participated in the 2017 Invictus Games held in Canada with her main sporting event being the Cycling Time Trial and Criterium for which she won Silver and Gold respectively. Sarah continues to be a spokesperson for Soldier On, speaking about her journey to audiences throughout Australia and engaging with others in the ex-serving community. 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.
When Emma’s husband, James, returned from Afghanistan, she noticed he was different in many ways. His fun loving, carefree temperament had changed to being 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 the organisation in desperation. Soldier On and Emma arranged for James to meet 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 service personnel 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 five 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. 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.”
Gabrielle met Jordan at just 19 in the very first week of his Darwin posting. Jordan’s ability to make her laugh won her over, and the rest as they say is history. Over eight years, Jordan and Gabrielle experienced the ups and downs of military life, including a 10 month deployment to Afghanistan, several more months apart for deployment preparation training, many interstate moves and ‘fresh starts’ away from family and friends. Jordan discharged from the Australia Defence Force in June 2014 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 their 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 2014, largely due to, “the welcome and ongoing support that we received from Soldier On.” 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 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.
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 three 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 an 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.
Lieutenant Brian Heilbronn enlisted into the Australian Army as a Rifleman in 2005. After completing his initial training he was posted to the First Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. Brian spent the next 12 years of his career in this battalion, which is affectionally known as ‘The Big Blue One’. During this time he conducted peacekeeping operations in East Timor during both 2006 & 2007; and later he deployed on warlike operations in Afghanistan during 2009/10. Brian’s contribution to The Big Blue One during his posting was noteworthy. He was awarded commendations for distinguished service for his efforts.
Unfortunately, 2014 proved to be another significant year for Brian. His former Platoon Commander, Captain Paul Mckay, took his life after losing his battle with PTSD. To help honour his legacy and raise awareness for PTSD, Brian developed the concept for the Paul Mckay Memorial Shield. This event sees soldiers from the Royal Australian Regiment compete in a Townsville marathon, whilst wearing body armour, to help raise awareness for PTSD and also fundraise for Soldier On.
Brian is also a Powerlifting coach for the Australian Invictus Games. In 2017 Brian oversaw the Powerlifting squad compete at the games in Toronto. Brian will continue this role for the 2018 Invictus Games. Brian described being part of the Invictus Games team as one of the most inspirational things he has been involved in throughout his military career. He said, “it was an honour to share the journey with the athletes”.
In 2016 Brian completed a degree in Exercise Physiology and he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps in 2017 and is now an active Army Reservist. As an active Army Reservist, Brian utilises his position as a Human Performance Officer to contribute to the 3 Brigade Vasey Resilience Centre, the ADF adaptive sports program and the Invictus Games team.
Brian is currently employed at James Cook University as an Associate Lecturer and clinical educator at the University’s College of Health Sciences. Here he is also undertaking research into injury prevention of tactical athletes through applied strength and conditioning.
After graduating from The Southport School, Ben was appointed as an Australian Army Officer and deployed on active service as part of the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999. He successfully transitioned from the military and has held various Board and executive leadership roles supporting the disadvantaged across Australia.
In recent years, Ben and his family have faced several challenges. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as a result of his military service. In addition, he had a mountain bike accident and incurred multiple injuries including fracturing his neck and spine in several places.
Ben is a proud supporter of Australians that have served our nation. He is particularly interested in helping current, and ex, service personnel and their families who have been impacted by their service.
Ben is married to Jodie and they have three children. He has been selected to represent Australia in rowing and powerlifting at the Invictus Games to be held in Sydney in October this year.
Dave Farrell MG
Dave Farrell enlisted in the Australian Army as a rifleman in March 1999. After completing his initial training, he was posted to the Second Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment. Dave deployed to East Timor in September 1999 with 2 RAR and upon return continued his role as a rifleman until 2001.
Dave then spent the next 6 months training at HMAS Cerberus for his next role as an Army Physical Training Instructor (PTI) before being posted to Darwin as a brigade PTI in December 2001.
During his time as a PTI Dave trained for the SASR selection course which he successfully completed in September 2003. Dave spent the remainder of his career in the SASR until he discharged in December 2016. During his time as a SASR operator, Dave deployed on six tours of Afghanistan, one tour to East Timor and spent time in Iraq.
Dave was awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his acts of bravery during a large enemy encounter during his first tour of Afghanistan in September 2005.
Dave is currently self-employed and runs his own leadership, coaching and training company, the Dave Farrell Group. Dave passes on his leadership knowledge and communication skills that were gained from over 17 years as a fighting soldier.
Dave said, “I am honoured to become an Ambassador for Soldier On and l am very passionate about not only raising awareness for Soldier On but also to create jobs for service personnel. The benefits of employment are enormous for both the employer and the service member”.
Adrian ‘Smiley’ Whitby joined the Royal Australian Navy in January 1989 as an apprentice Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. After completing trade training at HMAS Nirimba, he served on various ships, squadrons, and aircraft workshops throughout his 30 years in the Navy. Sea service has included three major deployments to the Middle East Area of Operations, including Operations Slipper, Falconer, Bastille, and Catalyst, in HMA Ships ANZAC, ADELAIDE (II) and Parramatta (III). Adrian discharged from the Navy as a Warrant Officer on 22 March 2019.
On 22nd July 2016, at age 44, Adrian was diagnosed with aggressive Prostate Cancer. He underwent radical, major surgery by open prostatectomy later that year to combat the cancer. In June 2017 Adrian developed Major Depressive Disorder. Since November 2016 Adrian has been involved in sailing as a component of his rehabilitation, through Soldier On and the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. He was a member of the Invictus Games Australia Team that competed in the 2017 Sydney to Hobart and even managed to fit in a ‘man overboard’ session off Wollongong about 4 hours into the race! He was a member of the Soldier On Team that undertook the gruelling 2018 Pollie Pedal from Melbourne to Canberra. Adrian embraces the healing power of sport as a recovery tool that challenges him mentally and physically to assist his rehabilitation toward his ‘new normal’. He encourages others to be physically active and to look after their mental and physical wellbeing.
Adrian is an active and regular member of Soldier On’s H.E.L.P (Health, Employment, Learning and Participation) program, engaging in their Employment Support Services, participating in social connection activities such as coffee catch-ups, indoor skydiving, concerts (Hans Zimmer, Green Day, Placebo), snorkelling at Maroubra (supported by Long Bay Correctional Facility Staff), art workshops, and cable-ski wakeboarding. He is a qualified sailing instructor who enjoys surfing, cycling, sailing, kayaking, and travelling.
Phil Hays-St Clair
Phil Hayes-St Clair is a self-described ‘serial entrepreneur’. After starting his first venture aged 10, he joined the Australian Army as a soldier then went on to lead user-centred design product teams at Suncorp and AMP before becoming the Co-Founder CEO at AirShr, a world-first audio recognition and interaction technology for radio. He is now the Senior Vice President of Business Development at inkl.
To keep himself busy, Phil blogs each week about startup growth, provides tips through his Founder To Founder Podcast, is a mentor at H2 Ventures, and is an Ambassador for both Soldier On and Inspiring Rare Birds.
In between these ventures, Phil completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Microbiology) at QUT and an MBA at AGSM, and represented Australia in triathlons.
Natalie Watson joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1986, directly from high school. For the next 12 years she was based at RAAF Richmond, flying on the B707 transport and air-to-air refuelling aircraft with 33 Squadron as a Crew Attendant. Natalie served in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and spent some time on exchange to the US Air Force with 92nd Air Refuelling Squadron. On return from the USA, Natalie had her first son and became an Instructor at 285 Squadron. During this time she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
In 2001, Natalie was posted to 34 Squadron, (VIP operations) located in Canberra as the Crew Attendant Leader where she remained for six years. Constant deployments overseas took their toll on her family life, leading her to become passionate about educating and assisting families to deal with such separation, both during and after military service.
After the birth of Natalie’s second son and discharging from the RAAF in 2006, she took on a job as a Training and Development Manager, working for a National Transport and Logistics Association. Natalie found that transition from the ADF to civilian life was not a smooth process, and battled with the pressures of relocation, full time parenting, and trying to fit in with the community outside of Defence.
As a means of coping with transitional difficulties, Natalie took up running and cycling. She pursued these hobbies and has now competed at an elite level in both sports and has represented Australia in ultra-marathons and duathlons. In her spare time, she enjoys social running events, trail runs with her children, and cycles most weekends with a group of friends. Natalie has said that a highlight for her this year was, “participating in Pollie Pedal with Soldier On and meeting other veterans from various backgrounds, forging some amazing friendships and lifelong friends.”
Most recently Natalie has trained as a Human Factors in Aviation Safety Investigator and currently works in the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services field as a Human Factors specialist with Toll Helicopters and NSW Ambulance. As a Service Ambassador to Soldier On, Natalie’s aim will be to assist as many other mothers and families through education, workshops, coffee catch-ups and presentations to help spread the word that they are not alone once they leave Defence.
An upbringing in a small rural town taught Jeremy the importance of community and the need to band together during the hard times. Leaving the Army after 13 rewarding and fulfilling years, the importance of mateship, and the continuing need for community and service were ever apparent.
Jeremy attributes his successful transition into civilian life to his immediate family and several key mentors. He is enthusiastic in recognising this assistance and ‘paying it forward’ to those who need support, particularly in finding fulfilling and meaningful employment after military life.
Jeremy works for the South Australian Government, continues to serve as an Army reservist, is a keen volunteer at his local footy club, a father of two delightful young humans who always keep him on his toes and husband to an ever-supportive wife who always keeps him grounded. “I now appreciate the importance of balance in life, between job, family, sport, and giving back in whatever way I can”.
Spending several years training and mentoring young soldiers and officers gave Jeremy a passion for assisting others to realise their goals and to become the best that they can be. He is passionate about continuing this and is humbled and proud to be able to contribute to, and support the efforts of, Soldier On.
Marc is an active supporter and advocate for veterans’ affairs, principally in South Australia but with significant and recent exposure to national programs and initiatives, including the Prime Ministers’ Veteran Employment Program and from Ex-Service Organisations.
Marc is a certified Project Manager and is currently employed by Raytheon Australia in Adelaide, SA. He is responsible for managing a body of work under the future Ground Based Air Defence program for the Australian Defence Force. Prior to joining Raytheon Australia in June 2018, Marc worked at another Defence prime, Saab Australia, for over four years. Whilst at Saab Marc was responsible for managing a support program for Army’s Air Defence capability.
Marc’s military service includes 18 years as a commissioned officer in the British and Australian Armies. During his 10 years in the British Army he was commissioned as an Air Defence officer in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. He completed a posting as an Air Defence Troop Commander in 3 Commando Brigade before postings with the Army Air Corps as a Lynx helicopter pilot and Aircraft Commander. During his time in the British Army, Marc completed the All Arms Commando Course and the Army Pilot’s Course. He also deployed twice to Northern Ireland as an infantry Platoon Commander and as aircrew.
After moving to Australia in 2004, Marc joined the Royal Australian Artillery at 16 Air Defence Regiment in Woodside, South Australia. During his eight years in the Australian Regular Army he completed postings as a Troop and Battery Commander at 16 Air Defence Regiment and as a Staff Officer in Canberra. He completed a seven month deployment to Tarin Kot, Afghanistan in 2011 under Op SLIPPER as the Commander of the Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar capability. Marc left the Army in 2012.
Whilst working at Saab Australia, Marc established a new position as the company’s Advocate for Veteran Employment. In this capacity he was responsible for coordinating veteran support and promoting the benefits of employing veterans within industry and government. Marc successfully bid on behalf of Saab Australia to get a seat on the Prime Minister’s Industry Advisory Committee for Veterans’ Employment and represented the Managing Director in that forum. He has also assisted the SA State Government with their own Veteran Employment policy. He established a company network for veterans employed by Saab Australia, supported Human Resources with their recruiting and retention of veterans, and led a support package for the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney. Since joining Raytheon Australia, Marc has been actively supporting their existing veteran program.
Marc believes that it’s a privilege to represent Soldier On in South Australia to further their wonderful work in supporting veterans, other government agencies that work side-by-side with the Australian Defence Force, and their families.
Amanda graduated from the Royal Military College in 1995 and went on to serve in the Australian Army for 25 year, as a member of both the Regular Army and more recently, the Army Reserve. During this time Amanda was deployed to East Timor, Indonesia, and Afghanistan, and has served in a number of roles including as an ADF and diplomatic interpreter and host officer, in support of official Indonesian Government delegations, and as the Chief of Staff, Special Operations Forces Liaison Element (SOFLE-S) Kandahar, Afghanistan.
After successfully transitioning out of the Defence Force, Amanda delved into the Emergency Services sector where she has consistently been at the forefront of leading teams of emergency responders, supporting affected Australasian communities during large-scale disasters over the last decade. Notably, in 2016 she was appointed as Western Australia’s first female fire and emergency services superintendent, where she commanded 400 volunteer emergency responders, tasked with responding to natural disasters across the state.
Currently a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Perth, Amanda is responsible for supporting public and private sector clients in large-scale transformation and cultural reform. Her board appointments include positions on the Premier’s Veterans Advisory Council and the Duke of Edinburgh International Award. Amanda is also the recipient of of the Meritorious Unit Citation with clasp, for her service within the 5th Aviation Regiment, the Special Operations Commander Commendation for outstanding service, and the United States Bronze Star and Lithuanian Medal of Merit for service to ISAF and Lithuanian Special Forces during her time in Afghanistan. Amanda is proud to work as an Ambassador for Soldier On to provide greater awareness to the issues facing the service community.
Rodney Davis joined the Australian Army in January 2001, undertaking studies at the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College – Duntroon before undertaking a range of appointments as an Officer in the Royal Australian Engineer Corps.
His service over the past 18 years has taken him across the east coast of Australia – namely Canberra, Townsville, Wagga Wagga and Brisbane, and he credits frequent moves in developing resilience in himself and his family. He has become involved in the civil community in each location, and is grateful to these communities for the considerable support they provide service personnel in adjusting to new locations around Australia.
Rodney is heavily involved in the Australian Rules community within both Army and civilian organisations, and firmly believes in the value of team sport and the associated camaraderie in engendering a sense of belonging and purpose.
Rodney and his young family are incredibly proud to be a part of the Soldier On family.
Darren joined the Australian Army as a fitter armourer in 2000 and was subsequently deployed on five operations, Afghanistan twice and Timor Leste. Two deployments were at home when he assisted with the North Queensland clean up after Cyclone Larry and Yasi, and found these to be so rewarding.
As a result of some personal post-deployment reflection and family decisions, he began the process to transfer to the Corp of Chaplaincy to become a Padre within the Australian Army. He has since been accepted as an ordination candidate with the Melbourne Diocese, an Army Cadet Chaplain with 33 Battalion AAC (Vic) and the planning is underway for what the future holds.
Darren enjoyed the challenges of leadership, in both barracks and deployed environments, but helping others out of difficult situations or transitioning out of the ADF has been the most rewarding. It was this need to help others that drove him to volunteer with Soldier On about six years ago. At first, he was “rattling tins” at various events to raise raising funds, helping at coffee catch ups, and assisting with the Victorian cycling activities, before finally becoming a Service Ambassador. Speaking at various events has allowed Darren to tackle the perceptions held by the broader community about the challenges that are faced by service personnel and reinforce the point that whilst much has been done, there is so much more that needs to be done.
Darren remains a fulltime ADF member, currently posted to Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), Victoria Barracks Melbourne, and aims to continue to help Soldier On as they bring hope, support, and friendship to Australia’s contemporary veterans (both serving and retired), service personnel, and their families.