Think Piece: Continuing to Serve
Source: Ben Parkinson
Being in the Australian Defence Force is a unique privilege where, as part of a dedicated team, you serve your nation to the best of your ability. In my experience, everyone was treated equally. The challenge for many comes when they can no longer serve in the capacity that is required due to personal, health or other reasons. History shows that transition takes its toll on many of our veterans and their families.
I feel that one of the main reasons many veterans struggle with transition, is that they are going from a strong team that is focused on a single mission, a mission that comes first regardless of anything else, to an environment where this is no longer the situation. What do you do when there is no longer a mission or a team?
Some replace it with another mission or team, becoming successful in business or public life. Others feel lost and overwhelmed, particularly if they have physical or psychological injuries, requiring assistance to find purpose and meaning in their post service lives.
Defence Shed has adopted a unique model in that it encourages veterans to ‘Continue to Serve’. Supporting veterans to find a new mission by offering programs that encourage veterans to use their skills and abilities to contribute to their local community regardless of physical or mental injuries.
Defence Shed’s hands-on projects range from community gardens, assisting other veterans, through to supporting local events. From these activities veterans are benefiting from continuing to serve in different ways. Throughout these programs Defence Shed encourages peer to peer communication to help veterans identify and access the most appropriate support agency to meet their needs, whilst supporting them throughout the process. This is particularly important as veterans can be overwhelmed by the volume of veteran support organisations, many that are not a good fit for every individual. By working with veteran support organisations we aim to obtain the best outcome for the veteran.
Other proven benefits of Defence Shed’s programs are that they build confidence, communication and interaction between the local community and veterans. Australia, for a variety of reasons, has become a nation that does not overtly display gratitude for veterans in the same manner as some other countries. Reasons for this could include the professionalisation of the Australian Defence Force, with civilians viewing it as a career rather than service to nation. A large portion of the Australian population find it difficult to relate to the concept of armed conflict as it is not something that has had a direct impact on them – it’s not here, it’s over there.
This is a positive thing for Australian society, however it can inadvertently provide a disconnect between a veteran’s expectation of a civilian’s understanding of who they are and the community’s actual understanding of what and who a veteran is. These disconnects can only be overcome by improving communication and interactions, encouraging the community to understand the modern veteran, and rectifying misperceptions.
A veteran helping the local church, building a garden bed for an elderly neighbour, or helping the local festival, builds trust and opens the lines of communication. These interactions enable the community to support veterans during their transition.
As a registered non-profit charity, Defence Shed supports current and ex-serving Defence members, civil defence personnel and their families. We encourage families to participate in programs, as we also recognise that families also require assistance from the impact of a veteran’s service. Defence Shed programs are attended by male and female veterans of all ages from early twenties to late seventies.
With a motto of “Everyone Is Equal Under One Roof”, Defence Shed’s programs are open and inclusive of all veterans regardless of age, gender, race, or any other factors.
By connecting veterans with their local community we can ensure that our current and ex-service Defence personnel can build resilience as they transition into civilian life.
Ben has been the Chairperson of Defence Shed since July 2017, and a member of Defence Shed since it commenced operations in 2015. Defence Shed has assisted Ben to manage his Post Traumatic Stress caused from operational service in Banda Aceh. Ben has served in the Royal Australian Air Force for 20 years, having served on six overseas deployments including East Timor, Banda Aceh, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He holds a Bachelor and Masters of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Bachelor of Security, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism.
Caption: (Top) The Defence Shed Relaxation Area with a garden which produces fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers for the local community. (Bottom) Defence Shed members creating a wind break for a local church garden.