SOLDIER ON OPENS NEW HEADQUARTERS AT CANBERRA AIRPORT

National veteran support charity, Soldier On, has opened a new national Headquarters today at an event at Canberra Airport.

Currently supporting more than 8,000 veterans and family members, Soldier On is Australia’s only national fully integrated and holistic support service provider.

Soldier On’s services include a range of mental health and wellbeing services, employment support and education programs, as well as activities focused on connections with family, friends, and the broader community.

Soldier On Headquarters is made possible by the support of Capital Airport Group.

Chairman of Soldier On, LTGEN (Retd) Peter Leahy AC, said the new location offers advanced opportunities for support services across the country.

“As the national headquarters, this location will not only operate to support the Canberra region but will assist the vast network of Soldier On teams around the country in delivering vital services to Australia’s veterans and their families,” he said.

Soldier On’s new Headquarters was officially opened by the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). The Governor-General and Mrs Hurley are Joint Patrons of Soldier On.

“It is incumbent on all of us to help veterans transition back into society and to ensure they and their families have access to support. Australia owes a great deal to the men and women who serve in uniform and to their families,” the Governor-General said.

“The interests of our contemporary veterans and their families are at the very core of Soldier On’s work. These new premises will enable Soldier On to better support the Canberra region and the network of Soldier On teams around the country.”

Canberra Airport CEO, Stephen Byron said the organisation is thrilled to support our nation’s veterans with this partnership.

“We are proud to be a Principal Partner of Soldier On and recognize the importance of their vital support to those who served, and continue to serve, in the Australian Defence Force,” Mr Byron said.

“As one of the major employment hubs in Australia for Defence personnel, it is only appropriate that Soldier On’s headquarters is based here at Canberra Airport, where they and their families can access Soldier On’s Services.”

NEW LIFE PATH

Thanks to Soldier On, Private Thomas Apoyan made a successful transition to the civilian workforce.

After nearly eight years in the Army, Private Thomas Apoyan’s training as an electronics systems technician had taught him to be organised, on time, meticulous – and ready for anything. But it wasn’t until the 33-year-old Adelaide-based veteran decided to swap Army life for a civilian role that he realised just how valuable these skills could be to future employers.

 Thomas had given himself nine months to find employment after leaving the Army – while also navigating the planning of his own wedding and purchase of his first property – because he said prospective employers might dismiss him as just another ex-military veteran that could do not much more than hold a rifle.

According to Thomas, the skills veterans acquire during their time in the military are essential for any employer. He says time management, and ability to follow instructions and teamwork alongside a trade, are just a few of the qualities veterans can offer employers.

Instead, just three months into his job search, Defence contractor BAE Systems Australia snapped him up for the same focus and preparedness that he had developed during his life in the military. And it’s this experience that has made Thomas urge other employers to recognise the skills that highly trained veterans could bring to employers.

 “Giving myself a long-lead-time ensured that if there were any setbacks, there was no pressure and could ensure that everything was done correctly.

“I wanted to move away from Defence and find a career where I could stay in one place and have an opportunity to move into a role with more autonomy and ability to practice critical thinking and decision making using my past experiences in operations management and the Australian Defence Forces (ADF).”

However prepared Thomas thought he was, he said there were still doubts whether he’d secure employment that fitted his skills or if an employer would even recognise them. Not knowing what support services are available can heighten the disconnection some veterans feel when making the transition to civilian life and trying to find employment. As Thomas says, this is where Soldier On came into their own.

“Soldier On really helped me on the right path as to where I wanted my career to go post-Defence. They took the time to understand my previous work experience, my skill set and my experiences with the ADF to put me in good stead for a career that I would not only suit but also enjoy.”

BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan described the importance of understanding the valuable skills veterans can bring to an employer. “Veterans have enormous value as potential employees because the Australian Government has invested heavily to train servicemen and women over many years in really diverse roles. Service experience is considerable and diverse.

“The skills a veteran brings can add significant value to your bottom line. A lot of military training is directly applicable in civilian operations. Safety. Leadership. Logistics. Project management. And so much more,” Ms Costigan said.

 In July 2021, Thomas attended a Soldier On Pathways Networking Event after hearing about their Pathways program at a Defence transition seminar. He described the event as a “major confidence boost.”

He went on to say, “The event helped me realise that employers did see the benefits of veteran employment and that veteran’s skills outside of the role were valuable. The Pathways program provided networking opportunities with representatives and organisations who were very willing to talk with me and hear about my experiences.”

Thomas initially approached Soldier On’s Pathways team for help to spruce up his CV. However, he received so much more than a new CV, instead, very quickly he impressed not only the team at Soldier On but representatives at BAE Systems Australia, after being put in touch with a Soldier On Ambassador who worked for the Defence contractor. The rest, Thomas says, is history.

“I met up with the Soldier On Ambassador and found out he had already passed my CV around the company and organised for me to meet their representatives that night. From there I interviewed with one of their project teams and was offered a position.

“If I hadn’t taken my time to find out about the resources out there for transitioning veterans, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. It pays dividends to use the resources available, contact organisations like Soldier On, take your time and see what’s available.”

BAE Systems CEO, Ms Costigan, said: “Thomas’ experience is a great example of skills recognition to support a successful transition to civilian life. We are delighted to partner with Soldier On to support more veterans like Thomas into our workforce.”

National Psychology Services Manager for Soldier On, Joe Losinno said: “Transitions can be a difficult period for veterans, however an organisation like Soldier On understands their perspective and particular way of thinking. Both Soldier On and BAE Systems Australia thrive by building a veteran-centric approach into the heart of their operations. They’re both great examples of how understanding veterans can enrich companies, often in surprising and unexpected ways.”

 After spending his first week at BAE Systems Australia, Thomas says he has settled into his new role and is looking forward to his future post-Defence.

 “BAE Systems didn’t make me feel like a number, they helped me transition into my new role and gave me the time to do so. They are very understanding of where I have come from. A lot of people think of a veteran as just a rifleman, I was very fortunate Soldier On and BAE Systems recognised the skills veterans have.”

MARCH ON WITH GARY

This March, Blackhawk crash survivor and now personal trainer, Gary Wilson, is Marching On to support veterans. If Gary can do it, so can you.

It was a pitch-black night. No moon. No one saw the ground coming up. Not even the pilots. Night-vision goggles (NVGs) aren’t that effective on cloudy, moonless nights. “The loadmaster might have seen it coming,” says Gary, “because his last words were on the flight recorder.” The US loadmaster, who lost his life that night, just started to alert the pilot when “we slammed into the ground at a stupid crazy speed,” says Gary, his voice slurred from the brain injuries he suffered because of the crash. “From 200 knots to zero in a second.”

That night, June 21, 2010, at 0339, three Australian Commandos – Private Timothy Aplin, Private Benjamin Chuck and Private Scott Palmer and the US loadmaster, Brendan Silks – lost their lives in a Blackhawk helicopter crash near Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Gary survived. The aircraft hit the ground, tumbled, and caught fire immediately. Pretty soon, the ammunition began cooking off. “They found me crawling away from the burning wreckage,” says Gary, “with one arm and one leg because the other side of my body was broken. And then once I realised I was secure, my body collapsed and I lapsed into a coma, and started convulsing.” Gary was given anti-convulsion medication and casevaced by one of the three other Blackhawks on the mission that night.

He has no memory of the accident or the next three months in Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany. He doesn’t even remember getting on the chopper. “So my last memory was running past the phone in the hallway [on base] going, I should call Renee [Gary’s wife]. I’ll call her when I get back, it’s a quick mission.”

Gary’s next memory is three months later, waking in a dark room thinking he’d been captured. “I was in a darkened room, tied to a chair. What’s going on here? I hear people moving behind me, so I tried to escape, as you do. I tried to undo what was around my waist, holding me down. And got up to run. As I ran, my left foot didn’t work, so I started to fall forward. And went and landed on both my hands in front of me. My left arm wouldn’t extend, so I smashed my face into the floor as I fell, and split my lip, and all I could taste was blood.

“And then I heard a voice go, “Shit,   Mr Wilson, are you OK?” I was like, they speak English, Australian voices, what’s going on here? And then the girl came around and she goes, ‘you were in the helicopter crash. You’re safe’. And she picked me up, put me back in the bed. I was like, how can one person pick me up and put me back into bed? I’m 80 kilos. I was 47 kilos. I’d lost half my body weight.”

Gary suffered bruising on his brain, affecting his personality, temper, memory and cognition. He had to learn to walk, talk and drive again. He also suffered a “diffuse axonal injury”, he explains, “which is essentially shaken baby syndrome, and the injury resembles having a stroke”. Today, that still impacts his muscle control and his speech, which is slurred and slowed.

But Gary is a soldier and a fighter and “likes to prove people wrong”. Gary now runs Bare Coaching, a successful personal training facility.

“I suffered a significant brain injury, which forced me to re-learn everything again,” he says on his website, “from eating to swallowing, from moving to walking. What I learned during my recovery was so profound, I had to share it.”

Gary is doing his first March On this year, despite an ongoing injury to his left foot and hamstring that stops him from taking long strides and makes running uncomfortable. Showing a can-do attitude and uncommon resilience, Gary says, “I can walk until my foot cramps up. So that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll grind through it.”

SOLDIER ON ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF INTERIM CEO

Veteran support charity, Soldier On, has announced the appointment of Interim Chief Executive Officer, Prudence Slaughter.

The appointment of Ms Slaughter follows the resignation of former CEO, Ivan Slavich, earlier this month.

Ms Slaughter steps into the role following her longstanding contribution to the organisation and successful leadership as Partnerships and Grants Director.

With more than 10 years of international experience in the not-for-profit and volunteer sectors, as well as more than five years as a key member of the Soldier On team, Ms Slaughter brings a wealth of experience and understanding to the position.

In her time at Soldier On, Ms Slaughter has been responsible for the development and implementation of key programs that directly support the veteran community. She has also been responsible for obtaining government funding opportunities, philanthropic aid, and extensive partnerships to ensure that quality support is available across the country.

Soldier On Chairman, LTGEN Peter Leahy, AC (Ret’d), expressed his confidence in the appointment of Ms Slaughter.

“During her time at Soldier On, Prudence has been a significant contributor to the success and growth of the organisation. Her passion and commitment to the veteran community, and her expertise in the field make her a tremendous asset to the organisation and to those we support,” Mr Leahy said.

“Myself and my fellow Board members are confident that Prudence will carry on the strong leadership of her predecessors and continue to increase the care and support of our veterans and their family members. We look forward to working with Prudence as she leads the organisation,” Mr Leahy added.

Soldier On Interim CEO, Prudence Slaughter, expressed her sincere thanks to predecessor, Ivan Slavich, and is honoured to lead the Soldier On team.

“Under Ivan’s outstanding leadership, Soldier On has seen tremendous growth and development. The organisation has doubled the number of veterans and family members receiving support and expanded its operations considerably, creating a truly national footprint to provide support to the veteran community where it is needed,” Ms Slaughter said.

“It is now my great privilege to continue this fantastic work. I look forward to leading the team and supporting them in their tremendous efforts to support those who have served our nation,” Ms Slaughter added.

The Board will continue the recruitment process for a permanent appointment for the role of Chief Executive Officer.

SOLDIER ON ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION OF CEO

Veteran support charity, Soldier On, has announced the resignation of Chief Executive Officer, Ivan Slavich.

Mr Slavich will be leaving the organisation on 15 March 2022, following a successful two and a half years of leadership.

Under his leadership, Soldier On has seen tremendous growth, doubling the number of veterans and family members receiving life-changing support services. In meeting the ever-present demand for support across the country, Soldier On has obtained increased government funding opportunities, philanthropic aid and outstanding community assistance to ensure that support is available in every state and territory, in both metro and regional areas.

Soldier On Chairman, Peter Leahy, expressed his sincere thanks to Mr Slavich for his commitment and passion throughout his engagement with the organisation.

“In his time as CEO, Ivan has made significant contributions to Soldier On and the veteran community. He has provided outstanding leadership and vision through challenging times, leading the organisation towards many great triumphs. His legacy will be increasing care, support and recognition of our veterans and their families and we wish him great success in his next endeavours.”

Soldier On CEO, Ivan Slavich, said leading Soldier On has been the highlight of his working career.

“We have doubled the number of veterans and family members we support, creating a truly national footprint to provide support where it is needed. I have had many personal experiences where veterans have told me that we have changed or saved their life, nothing could be more rewarding than that. This was only possible because of my fabulous staff, supporters, philanthropists, government, corporates, ambassador, the Board and the most generous public who have “Marched On” in our signature peer to peer fundraiser that was introduced under my leadership raising nearly $2m in 2021,” Mr Slavich said.

“Soldier On has changed the veteran landscape to provide excellent support for the veteran community. I would like to thank Peter Leahy and the Board for being so supportive and look forward to seeing Soldier On continue from strength to strength as I hand over the reins to the next commander in chief,” Mr Slavich added.

The Board will now commence recruitment for a new Chief Executive Officer.

BOEING AUSTRALIA AND SOLDIER ON JOIN FORCES FOR VETERAN MENTORING PROGRAM

Soldier On and Boeing Australia have teamed up to establish a national mentoring program for veterans and their family members.

Veterans and their families can now access the Soldier On Boeing Mentoring Program, which launched today on Soldier On’s website and is now open to applications.

The Soldier On and Boeing Australia Mentoring Program covers all aspects of the veteran transitioning phase, providing structured support for members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) community. 

Specialised support will be provided in areas such as career change, progression and planning, skill development, and professional networking.

Veterans and family members will be selectively matched with Soldier On Pledge Partner employees, who will mentor the participant for the duration of the program.

Long-term supporters of Soldier On programs, Boeing Australia have collaborated to establish several employment and connection initiatives and will be active participants in Soldier On’s March On campaign.

“We value the skills and contributions of former service personnel, and this program is a fantastic way to support veterans as they transition to a life out of uniform into civilian roles, where their professionalism, loyalty and experience can be meaningfully applied,” said Dr Brendan Nelson AO, president of Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific.

 “As a large employer of veterans, many of our employees have firsthand experience of the challenges faced when re-entering the workforce and are committed to empowering others.”

Participants will develop goals along with their mentor, strategise and work together on how to achieve these goals, whether personal or work-related.

This program will utilize a mentoring platform designed to create opportunities for growth and development. The program is participant centric, with the flexibility to tailor to the needs of the individual.

Soldier On CEO, Ivan Slavich said Soldier On is delighted to partner with Boeing Australia on the innovative new initiative.

 “The impact quality mentoring can have for a transitioning veteran is significant. Partnering with Boeing Australia to deliver this powerful program, expands access to the knowledge, experience and guidance of leaders in their varied fields of expertise.

We expect both mentors and mentees will cement valuable relationships and both will be enriched through the experience.  This will enable more veterans and their family members to thrive”.

SOLDIER ON MENTOR PROGRAM RECOGNISED IN AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE INDUSTRY AWARDS

Former Army rifleman Andrew Horne’s recent career success shows just why Soldier On’s Mentor Programme was recognised at the Australian Defence Industry Awards in December.

Soldier On received the Training and Mentorship Program of the Year award for their work with veterans helping to transition them from the defence forces to civilian life.

The programme sees former and currently serving Australian Defence Force members and their families matched with a trained industry mentor to maximise their opportunities to find employment.

East Timor veteran Andrew, who was paired with a BAE Systems mentor, said the programme helped him realise his worth away from the Army.

“Coming from a defence background, you know personally what you have to offer is what you have been trained in. Unfortunately for us we downplay a lot and don’t realise there is so much we can offer to an organisation unless it’s shown to us or put in front of our faces.

“For me, I have an army background in the infantry, I thought I was only capable of doing three or four things. It’s important to remember we have so many things we pick up on the way: teamwork, professionalism, the fact you can start something and follow through with it,” Andrew added.

Andrew said the mentoring programme and position at Soldier On helped him regain his identity.

“As soon as you get out of the Armed Forces, you lose your uniform, your nametag, your rank, you feel like you have no identity within society. The mentoring programme opens your eyes to your self-worth, but it also helps put veterans into roles where they have a purpose,” Andrew said.

Hunter veteran and Soldier On Ambassador, Chris Harris, said the programme offered him the opportunity to support his fellow veterans.

“In 2018 I was fortunate enough to receive Soldier On support to gain employment within the Hunter Region. Soldier On’s Pathways Program was an invaluable resource for me during my transition from the Australian Defence Force. It has been a great honour to return to the program as a Mentor to my fellow veterans,” Chris said.

Soldier On CEO, Ivan Slavich, said the organisation is thrilled to be recognised as part of the awards alongside esteemed members of the Defence community.

“Recognition in these awards acknowledges the achievements of all veterans working to transition to civilian life and the power of collaboration to provide effective training and mentorship.”

Mr Slavich said: “Mentoring can have a significant impact on the transition experience, offering guidance and encouragement while supporting a sense of mateship and comradery. At Soldier On, our Mentoring Program has seen fantastic success for both our mentees and mentors alike. We are thrilled to continue this program into the future and enable more veterans and their family members to thrive,” Mr Slavich added.

Soldier On was also recognised as a finalist in the Australian Defence Industry Awards in the category of Veteran Support Program of the Year.

The Australian Defence Industry Awards, which recognises excellence from defence professionals, organisations and businesses across the country, was held in December.