After 13 years of service starting in 1999, deployments to East Timor and Afghanistan and having been awarded seven medals, including the Defence Long Service Medal, Brett returned to Albury-Wodonga and commenced a civilian life, focusing on his family.
Ten years ago, support for ex-service personnel was drastically less accessible compared to the avenues of support we have today. Having navigated the complexities of leaving the Australian Defence Force himself, Brett saw that there was a gap in support for veterans regionally and decided to do something about it.
A Man on a Mission
“At the back end of 2013, when I first got out of the Army, I saw what Soldier On was doing and reached out. A few of us got together just wanting the coffee catch-ups for all of us Afghan and East Timor vets to get together and reintegrate back into society again after being discharged”, he says.
With his mind set on getting an ESO to Albury, Brett travelled down to Canberra and met with Soldier On. It didn’t take much convincing to set up services in the area, with Albury being home to three Defence hubs and being the centre of three capital cities.
“There was a need for services to reach rural areas or even just to target military bases. With so many ESOs operating solely out of major cities, there was a large population of Aussie vets who were unable to access the support they needed.”
From there, Albury RSL’s sub-branch took Soldier On under their wing, offering a telephone and office space to get the operation running – the rest is history.
Coffee Catch-Up’s With a Purpose
Since getting Soldier On to the area, Brett has had some incredible experiences, highlighting trips to the snowy mountains, cooking masterclasses, making croquembouches, and attending a Vet Connect weekend in Melbourne. However, most notably, he regards his volunteer work organising bi-weekly Social Connections Coffee Catch-Ups in collaboration with the local Open Arms team as the most influential and, at times, even providing life-saving services.
“A couple of years back, while wearing a Soldier On shirt, a woman, clearly distressed, approached me asking for help. She told me how her son had served and desperately needed support. I took her to the local café and we talked about the different avenues which were available, and I gave her the best points of contact for different ESOs around town, including Soldier On.”
“Later, she found me at one of our regular Coffee-Catch Up’s, and she told me how her son was doing better. With so many veterans having taken their own lives already, this reminded me why these meetings matter,” Brett recalls.
“Another time that stuck with me is when we were able to help out a young mother with a newborn who was struggling with her mental health. I went out to where she was living, and she ended up getting the help she needed.”
“I’d rather know that I’ve tried my best, and if it means achieving better results, so be it. I don’t have that certifications or qualifications in the area of mental health, but if a veteran can’t talk to another veteran to help them, how else are we meant to get that support” he says.
Outside of being deeply integrated within the local veteran community, Brett also offers his time as the Treasurer of the Albury RSL to support the local community and has an impressive history with adaptive sports.
Brett has been to the 2016 and 2022 nationals in Melbourne for Wheelchair Australian Rules Football (AFL) and remains to this day the captain of his team for Victorian RSL Active. On top of these already incredibly impressive achievements, Brett was drafted for the inaugural Victorian Football League Premiership in 2018 as Vice Captain and won his first inaugural competition for Collingwood. Brett has incredible reach, and is a well-respected figure within his community – the work he does with Soldier On is inspiring to many.
“I can no longer work because of my injury, and Soldier On helped me reconnect with society. I am deeply grateful and hope I can keep helping others in the same way,” he says.