Don’t Mention The War

Another ANZAC Day has come and gone. As with previous years I donned a suit with my medals affixed and attended a Dawn Service. This year, however, something seemed different. From the moment I stepped foot onto the rain-sodden grass of Warrawee Park and walked towards the Oakleigh Cenotaph I felt like an interloper at an event that I should have felt at ease attending. As far as I could tell under the glare of the nearby street lights, I was the only Modern-Day Veteran in attendance.

As I do when I attend any Military commemoration service by myself, I circled the crowd looking at faces and chests to see if I could recognise a former colleague or identify someone who has deployed on the same campaigns as I have. For the first time, I spotted neither; in fact, the only medals that were being worn were those of the attending Victorian Police Officers for their service to VICPOL, descendants wearing World War One and World War Two medals, and the Vietnam era medals worn by the local RSL Sub-branch representatives. At this Dawn Service I was alone; and I felt alone

The Service was like most others, the requisite boxes were ticked and despite some technical glitches due to the wet weather, the Service was completed as intended. However, two things occurred that would ensure I will not be attending another Dawn Service at the Oakleigh Cenotaph. A man, more than old enough to know better, spent the entire Last Post, Minute’s Silence and the Reveille with his concentration focused firmly on the iPhone glowing brightly in his hands; something I very much doubt he will do ever again after some quiet words from me. The second incident highlighted a growing trend I have noticed over the past several months. I was approached by the representative of the local council to pose for a photo with the attending local member for Monash Council. There was no request for my name, service details or any other personable interaction, I was requested to act as a prop in a photo opportunity to make a politician seem like he cared about ANZAC Day

Due to my previous volunteer work for Soldier On, I am no stranger to standing in front of a camera and playing the part of the modern-day Veteran for a cause or fundraising event. In the few short years since my participation with Australia’s highest profile ESO and subsequent withdrawal from Veteran Support Organisations and media engagements, I have seen an increase in the number of modern-day Veterans step in front of the camera and share their experiences with the community. A Veteran’s experiences on deployment are very personal and something that isn’t easily shared with others; especially strangers. When speaking to the media I would have a pre-prepared script in my head that I would follow. Even the details that I would share that seemed extremely personal were details that I had censored or had omitted entire events from to protect friends, family and myself.

In an age where so many rely on social media and smart devices for their news and real time information it should be no surprise that many Politicians, businesses and ESO’s have embraced a more arguably aggressive media campaign leading up to and on ANZAC Day. From my vantage point at the back of the crowd during the Oakleigh Dawn Service it was easy to spot the dozen or so camera flashes each time a local Politician or business owner laid a wreath at the base of the Cenotaph. A brief check of two of the attending member’s social media accounts the day after the Service indicated that the photos taken during were posted online less than an hour after the actual wreath laying. Such instances are not rare, in fact, during the Dawn Service itself I could see multiple groups of younger persons taking selfies with either the congregation or Cenotaph in the background. The same was clearly evident during the day when television news programs reported on the various Capital City Dawn Services; it was a sea of smart phones glowing brightly, replacing what used to be candles providing a sombre atmosphere.

A concerning emergence this ANZAC Day was the promotion of the ‘Struggling Modern-Day Veteran’ identity by various media outlets and some ESO’s. It’s a very fine line to tread at the best of times, but on the one day of the year when patriotism, jingoism and emotions can become blurred, some media reporting and ESO social media posts/promotions were seen by some people as being in bad taste.

On one side of the coin is an article published by the ABC and written by Jane Cowan regarding Australian Veteran Chris May’s experiences during and after his deployments to Afghanistan. As co-founder of ESO Young Veterans, Chris is at the forefront of Veteran advocacy and often speaks of his personal experiences as way to engage, educate and de-stigmatise the issues many Veterans face regarding mental health and suicide. As someone who has done this previously and quite openly, I applaud his stance and candour on these issues and without a doubt the decision by both Chris and the ABC to publish this article on ANZAC Day was one that was not made without careful consideration. In this instance it was an article that was published with an aim to inform and educate; and not push an agenda or promotional angle.

On the other side of the coin was a text message I and many thousands of others received in the afternoon on ANZAC Day from ESO Soldier On.

Without being too critical of an organisation I once supported and represented, the timing and wording of the text message leaves a lot to be desired. I openly question the aggressive tone of the message, especially considering the audience receiving it would be primarily made up of Veterans and Veteran’s families. Have we not served and sacrificed for our country? Do I really need to honour the memory of my dead friends, men killed in action on foreign soil, by sending $25 to Soldier On now?

The Veteran ESO network is particularly vast in Australia with some organisations focusing on providing support and support programs tailored to a specific activity or operating within a small geographical area. Other, larger ESO’s, aim to engage with and provide support to a larger community of Veterans across many states and sometimes nationally by providing a multitude of support programs, activities and fundraising opportunities. It is via these fundraising opportunities that many ESO’s engage with the broader community and raise the necessary funds to continue to provide support services to Veterans and their families.

It is often through this engagement via a fundraising platform that the wider community, without any direct connections to a wounded or service-affected Veteran, learns of the issues facing those of us that reach out to an ESO for assistance. Our experiences enter the public domain, with the aim of helping others; we share details that are often very personal and sometimes tragic. As I have written about before, some ESO’s are competing over finite sources of funding while simultaneously exploiting the experiences of Veterans and maintaining their focus on a what is a predominately negative narrative.

Of course there will always be articles and social media posts written about the negative experiences of Veterans. Whilst we await the provision of adequate Government provided support services and wade through the quagmire that is interacting with the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs; Veterans will continue to express their frustration and anger to a wider audience. We will continue to reach out to ESO’s for support and they will continue to reach out to the Australian public to open their ears, hearts and wallets to fill the gaping hole left by failure of the Government and DVA to provide timely, tailored and adequate support for Australia’s Veterans. But must they do this by continually presenting the Modern-Day Veteran as a victim?

Those of us that live with physical and mental injuries deserve the best chance at a positive recovery. Each day is treated as a new step on a long journey to better our lives and the lives of those people we call friends and family. Our relatively new identity as an Australian Veteran is not and should not be treated as a burden. We are told to focus on the positives in our lives as we continue with our recovery. Should not those organisations purporting to assist us do the same?

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What Does ANZAC Day Mean To You?

It is the question that gets asked every year; What does ANZAC Day mean to you?  The quick, neat and politically correct answer is: “honouring the brave men and women who have served our nation in war and remembering those that died doing so”.  But is that what the day really means to people?

As a child, I remember waking early and attending the Dawn Service with my Father at his various Units.  I knew my Father was in the Army and I knew he had been a Soldier since long before I was born.  The many medals he wore on his uniform reflected a lifetime spent serving his Nation; the same uniform and medals he would meticulously set up and layout the night before each Dawn Service.

Growing up, my Father rarely spoke of his time in Vietnam; there was never any depth or emotion to what he would tell my sister and I.  Each year as ANZAC Day approached, my Father, a very quiet yet authoriative man, would become withdrawn and focused.  To me this wasn’t unusual, this was just something my Father did prior to ANZAC Day; the one day of the year he would go drinking with his friends.
I look back to those years and I wonder if my Father and his brothers experienced the same with their Father; a Veteran of World War Two.

I have spent previous ANZAC Days attending the Dawn Service, have taken part in and commanded Catafalque Parties, have marched through a number of Capital and rural cities and have stood on foreign soil and listened to a bugler play The Last Post.  This year I will once again take a set of medals from a box deep within my wardrobe, pin them onto a suit jacket and attend a Dawn Service close to my home.  This will be the sixth ANZAC Day out of uniform since leaving the Australian Army.  Not long into the day I will take off my jacket, un-pin my medals and place them in their box and back into the wardrobe to await the long year until they next see the light of day.

But why do I and so many others wake up early, put on clothes that often make this one day of the year our best dressed, and attend the various commemoration activities?  If you listen to the media, various football codes and the RSL, it’s about remembering the men that landed at ANZAC Cove more than one hundred years ago; an act that helped to forge our National identity of a small yet determined Nation.  Even as a child I found this a hard concept to understand.  Unlike my Grandparents and Parents, I wasn’t born after a World War; there had not been a major conflict involving Australia since the Vietnam War and Australia was more than a decade away from participating in major Peace Keeping operations in Cambodia, Rwanda and later; East Timor.  My generation was born into relative peace time, we weren’t baby boomers, we weren’t exposed to the hardships and austerity measures of our parents’ childhoods and we were long removed from those few left that had fought at Gallipoli.

For many of us that joined the Australian Defence Force in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s we were quickly thrust into an operational cycle that would see many service-people deployed to East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan.  For the first time in decades, Australia was sending men and women to fight for their country on a large-scale.  During these deployments we lost friends, young men, who’s names now join the more than one hundred thousand others on the walls within the Australian War Memorial.

In the years since our withdrawal and subsequent redeployment to the Middle East, we have continued to lose more and more service-people to suicide, yet this is not something that is spoken about widely in the lead up to ANZAC Day.  We continue to hear about those that fought in Wars and Battles from the last century.  Our elected Politicians will wear a memorial pin for the day, and of course, a few modern-day Veteran’s will be thrust in front of the camera at sporting events across the country and used as a prop to sell a false kinship between professional sportspeople representing a team and someone who has represented and served a Nation.

To some Australians, ANZAC Day is, and will always be about the original ANZAC legend; the subsequent generations that have served Australia are little more than another contingent of Veterans marching down the main street of their town or city.  For others the day is an opportunity to enact a misguided interpretation of jingoism by starting their drinking early and displaying various patriotic symbols and emblems.

The disconnect between the general population, media, Veteran community and Veteran Support Organisations has grown over time.  The days of the stereotypical Australian Veteran – the cocky and stoic Digger – are far behind us; yet the legacy of that era still remains.  This ideology has been so ingrained into the Australian psyche that is comes as shock to many that Veteran suicide, substance abuse, homelessness and unemployment are so rife.  The RSL and some ESO’s use ANZAC Day as a foundation for their fundraising efforts, the shock value behind the struggles of many modern-day Veterans is used in the same way the AFL and NRL use the ANZAC legacy to sell tickets and make money.

The individual Veteran is once again being replaced by what the Department of Veterans Affairs, the RSL/ESO’s and media believe the archetype should be presented as.
Instead of Australian men and women standing tall, side by side and sharing with other Australians their experiences in uniform in faraway lands, we are experiencing a degradation of our collective Veteran Identity.

That is the foundation on what ANZAC Day is built upon.  Veterans supporting Veterans and entrusting our legacy, stories and experiences to a Nation that will undoubtedly provide more generations that will go to war; continuing a cycle that has existed for more than a century.

For me ANZAC Day is about the days and nights I spent in uniform, both in Australia and overseas.  The men and women I shared good and bad times with.  The men I called friends who spilled their blood on foreign soil and didn’t come home alive.  The men and women I knew – and those I never met – who took their own lives long after their feet touched Australian soil again.  We each have a story and it is up to us with who we share that story with.

One ANZAC Day a few years from now I will sit down with my children and begin with… “I was once an Australian Soldier…”

 

Have Veteran ESO’s Lost Their Way?

In an age where it seems a new External Support Organisation (ESO) starts up every few months, it would appear that there is an abundance of choice of support service provider available for a struggling Veteran to choose from.  In reality it’s difficult for an affected or wounded Veteran to find an organisation that is best suited to support them and their families.  As I’ve discussed before, there are geographical constraints in place, some ESO’s don’t provide a certain service and increasingly it seems word of mouth travels quickly.  For both good and bad reasons.

One of the key reasons why Veteran ESO’s are continually relied upon so heavily is due to the issues many of us face when dealing with the ADF upon discharging.  Stories of supportive transitions from the ADF into the civilian world are becoming increasingly rare; with many long-term servicepeople claiming (insert service) has changed.  Couple this with often frustrating interactions with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the RSL; it should come as no surprise many Veterans seek out an independent entity for support.

With so many Australian Veterans putting their hands up and asking for help more than ever, I, and many others, expect a more collaborative environment between ESO’s, Veterans and the ADF.  Sadly it seems to be the norm that no open dialogue exists in this realm.  Instead it seems increasingly more common for ESO’s to align themselves with and become more entrenched with the ADF way of thinking.

For many, including myself, this is moving away from what makes interacting and engaging with an ESO a more valid, positive and crucial experience; we crave and need separation between the ADF for a chance at a positive recovery from injuries both physical and mental.

What we need more than ever is not to have our collective voices heard but to have our individual stories listened to.  In the past few years actively supporting, and being supported by ESO’s, it has become very clear that a shift across most organisations has occurred with charities set up to support Veterans transforming into an organisation competing for a bigger profile and more funding.  In order to achieve this new goal and fight over finite sources of funding, Veterans’ experiences and stories are constantly being mined and treated as a commodity in order to achieve that new goal.

I’m aware that this opinion will evoke a large amount of criticism.  But I counter with my own experiences with ESO’s over the past four years.  The shadow cast by expectation of both the ESO and yourself to keep providing your time and representing Veterans is a cold darkness that is hard to escape from.  It makes those critical steps to recovery much harder to scale without a beacon to guide us.  With the commercialisation of the modern Veteran, we are rapidly losing our identity under the guise of supporting others like us.

The recent appointment of former CDF and current NSW Governor, GEN The Hon. David Hurley AC DSC, as Patron in Chief of arguably Australia’s largest and most well-known Veteran ESO, Soldier On, is indicative of a larger culture change in ESO’s from supporting Veterans to expanding profile.

As another ANZAC Day approaches and emotions come to the fore, many Veterans who have been quietly fighting their own internal battles choose this time to open up to their mates and family and ask for help.  Many harbour feelings of resentment and sadness from their treatment in the ADF and towards the upper echelons of rank of their respective service.  Was it really the best decision to appointment a previous Chief of Defence Force, especially one so divisive with his attitude in-regards to PTSD and Veteran Suicide, as the new Patron In Chief and most public representative of Soldier On?

Wildside 2016 – Prologue – Keeping It Simple (Stupid)

Cycling is a (r)evolution.  The simple action of wheels, cranks and legs turning over and over is metaphor for life.  We navigate through the ups, downs and obstacles life throws at us and we use those experiences on the bike to do the very same with the climbs, descents and technical sections of a mountain bike race.  Wildside 2016 was the race and event that would realistically (for me) combine the challenges of the past, the present, the future and make you use all of that, and more, to push your body to its limits in order to ride a bike along the west coast of Tasmania.

The idea was simple.  A team of Australian Veterans: ten days in Tasmania and a four day stage race; renowned for its beautiful scenery and decidedly difficult course.  The basic premise of lead up and event has been explored and undertaken by various ESO’s in the past and an idea/strategy I had helped to establish and participated in previously with Soldier On Cycling and during the Trois Etapes in France 2014.

Many lessons had been learnt from these various events and sadly, across many ESO’s, not a lot had been done to mitigate the issues that ultimately arise when people physically, emotionally and psychologically wounded undertake a challenging and sometimes life altering event.  Akin to riding up a mountain you are faced with the arduous climb, the elation of summiting and then the relative ease of descending.  But what happens when the riding stops?  This is where the adventure ends and the routine of life starts up again.  Combine this sudden stop with the fragile mental state of a vulnerable person and not only do new issues arise; but older, more dangerous issues can be compounded.

Surely this is something that is taken into account when ESO’s conduct big marquee events?  Well yes, yes they are but…  Service affected Veterans do not act or react like the general populous.  And this is why when the cameras and lights are packed away, when the celebrities disappear and when daily routine becomes the norm again, comprehensive and sustained follow up is a must.

The majority of Veteran ESO’s are established on three pillars: Empower, Encourage and Enable.  Each pillar is strong on its own, but by adding another to a Veteran’s recovery you are laying a stronger foundation to building a better quality of life upon.  While the three E’s are a great foundation for a Veteran’s road to recovery, a three pillar system isn’t the most stable for an organisation looking to provide a robust, tailored and reliable support system for an extremely complex and varied group of people needing support.  A fourth pillar is needed for an ESO to function effectively and achieve the results it sets for itself.  That pillar is Collaboration.

Collaboration has many forms in the ESO environment.  In the Veteran community several ESO’s are providing similar, if not identical, programs and services, whilst some specialise in one area.  Collaboration between these organisations may be the simple act of recommending and establishing contact with another ESO on behalf of a Veteran that would be of better assistance.  Be it due to geographic constraints or the fact that they either don’t provide the service or the other ESO is simply better at it.

Collaboration between ESO’s also requires the absence of Ego.  These organisations are all competing for funding from commercial, industry and Mum and Dad benefactors.  Sometimes this search for critical funds from finite sources leads to a loss of focus on what is effectively a life and death issue; improving Veteran Support Services.  A recent increase in new ESO’s and smaller initiatives targeting single areas highlights the areas in support services that aren’t being addressed or have been put on hiatus by the bigger organisations.  Some of these areas are integral to Veteran’s recovery and just as importantly, establishing connection with and maintaining a high level of awareness with the wider community.

One such area is cycling as a facet for both recovery and raising awareness.  Soldier On Cycling was one such initiative that quickly built a very strong foundation of Veteran and community support.  I’m very proud to say I helped to found and establish this initiative; but like all things that should be kept simple, complications soon arose.  The aforementioned presence of lack of Collaboration and excess of Ego have ensured that the wider Soldier On Cycling community is experiencing an indefinite hiatus whilst a small South Australian contingent experiences a high profile resurgence.  Whilst the original premise and aim of Soldier On Cycling is long gone, it is encouraging to see the aim to support, encourage and educate is still alive with other ESO’s; in particular Mates 4 Mates and Ride 2 Recovery.

Because of the no frills/KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach, I applied for and was accepted as member of the Ride 2 Recovery Wildside 16 #VeteranTeam.  The team was comprised of current and ex-serving contemporary Veterans who were all members/active supporters of either ADFCC (Australian Defence Force Cycling Club), Mates 4 Mates Cycling or Soldier On Cycling.  Each of us would bring the very different perspectives of our service and cycling experiences to the team.  The intra-team collaboration between Officers and Enlisted persons, racers and weekend warriors would ensure a fluid and adaptive experience that could become the benchmark for all ESO cycling events in the future.


Post featured image courtesy of Matthew Connors Photography

Blogged Down On Twitter #VeteranSuicide

I’m a somewhat prolific (ab)user of Twitter.  It’s a place where I am able to engage with a much wider audience about Australian veteran issues than I can on Facebook and other social and traditional media channels.  It is also a good place to complain about iiNet’s appalling service in Canberra.

Over the past several days I have had times where the black dog has started barking behind me.  I’ve resisted the urge to acknowledge it’s reappearance in my life, but with it being Mental Health Awareness Week, this has been quite difficult.  I have spent a lot of time trying to articulate my feelings, opinions and thoughts on veteran mental health support and veteran suicide into a single blog post.

The plan was to address the serious concerns I and many others have regarding the Australian Defence Force’s mental health support policies and the support avenues available to servicepersons once they discharge and begin re-integration into civilian society and life.  I found I was unable to focus enough to write anything close be being coherent with a clear narrative.  Instead after my Wife and child were fast asleep last night; I was able to communicate what I wanted to share via Twitter in 140 characters or less – give or take 16 tweets.

For those that want to read my SMS sized (over)share, here it is…


https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520163159173107712

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520163823383113728

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520164311004499968

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520164843970502657

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520165343935741952

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520165955503022080

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520166418495463424

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520167165345804288

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520167852989362177

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520168708224737280

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/520169354181111808

Trois Etapes 2014 – Part 6 – Expectation vs Reality

Like all good things, this Blog series must also come to an end.  For those of you diligent enough to read through the preceding five posts, I give to you, the final part in this series.

It’s difficult to sum up an experience like the Trois Etapes into a short form Blog series.  There are many factors that come into play when choosing what to include, what photos to use and how to balance the narrative so that it doesn’t sway too far into what I like to call “too-much-Chad” territory.  There were certain events, photos and details that I had to exclude.  Not due to any lewd behaviour, but because some members of the team are still serving in ADF and most importantly, it is not my place to tell their stories no matter how inspirational and confronting they may be.
As previously mentioned in Part 1, this was a long journey for me; and now that it’s over I find things have definitely changed for me.  I’ve always been brutally honest on this Blog and that is something I set out to do from the start.  I chose the name “Blogged Down By Life” for a reason.  Many days I wake up and feel like I am bogged down by what my life has become.
I live with what is clearly defined and diagnosed as a mental illness; I live with a form of PTSD and I live with a sometimes debilitating depressive disorder.  But despite this I do not suffer from anything.  I have made choices in recent years that have defined the person I now am; some were good choices, some were not.  It is difficult to find a balance between the two when your outlook of life is immediately tainted with a pessimistic view and defeatist attitude.  The highs I experience in life are exhilarating and the lows, well, sometimes the black dog gets the best of me.
During the lead up to the Trois Etapes I experienced many highs and lows; and more often than not I let frustration get the better of me.  Dealing with a charity like Soldier On is a unique experience.  A small number of dedicated staff, a heavy workload and an increasing number of requests for support, mean that details were often late in being disseminated to the team.  Things that often frustrated me were frustrating the staff even more as they were the ones spending hours of their own time trying to fix potentially catastrophic issues.  Differing opinions, stubborn people on both sides of the fence and a constant stream of minor issues arising, threatened to derail this massive undertaking before we even left Australia.
Do I wish some-things had occurred differently?  The simple answer to that is yes.  It was an unfortunate fact that due to so many competing events and the juggling of several prominent people’s schedules that the event launch our trip deserved did not happen.  The majority of the promotion for this event was on Soldier On’s Facebook page and my team-mates saturating social media with the details.
I am a more prominent advocate and supporter of Solider On and this is often a slippery path to navigate.  Through my early interaction and fundraising I essentially planted the seed that would grow to become Soldier On Cycling; a community of like-minded people and veterans that were using cycling a means to recovery and also to raise awareness for the charity itself.  This is something I am extremely proud of and elated to see what the idea has now grown into; different chapters in several different cities and of course the Soldier On cycling kit.  But what this meant for me, on a personal level, was that I had quite suddenly became a face and a voice for Soldier On; not something I was prepared for.
This quite suddenly came to a head earlier this year when an older Blog post about my interaction with the RSL went somewhat viral across ADF and veteran aligned social media groups.  I received an enormous amount of responses to that post and subsequently many others I had made.  The majority were people agreeing and supporting my stance; however the negative comments ranged from differing opinions to abuse to outright death threats.  This was my first taste of what my outspoken views on veterans issues would attract.
As the year progressed and Soldier On Cycling promoted and conducted the Remembrance Ride I chose to heavily promote the event on this Blog, my personal social media accounts and in the local and national media; something I do not regret doing.  While the Remembrance Ride achieved a great many things, most notably through a heavy saturation in the media; I had been left wondering if Soldier On’s participation in the Trois Etapes achieved the same level of achievement.  Over the last few days interacting with various people through social media, both friends and strangers, the overwhelming opinion is that we either didn’t achieve what we set out to do or we simply went on a holiday to France.
Do I agree with this?  No.  I do believe there were some missed opportunities leading up to the event that were out of our’s and Soldier On’s control which left more than a few people asking what was going on.  One point that I do take issue with though; is that the seven of us went to France on a holiday.
Each rider was chosen to participate for various reasons.  Either because of their tireless efforts in raising the profile of Soldier On, or by being affected by their service in the ADF; mentally or physically.  Like myself, many of the team has a devoted a great deal of their own time and funds to promote Soldier On and the issues younger veterans face on a daily basis.
Did I see the trip to France as a reward for this?  No.  I honestly saw it as an opportunity to promote Soldier On and Soldier On Cycling to a potential new global audience; and this is something we, as a team managed to do.  But, this is something that was not relayed back to our’s and Soldier On’s supporters and critics back in Australia.  There is no finger of blame to point for this, it was something that just did not occur.
The most important achievement by the seven of us travelling to France and racing in a cycling Pro-Am was the personal growth that occurred in each of us.  I shared personal accounts of survival, loss, hope and desperation with a group of men that I will never forget.  I saw men breakdown physically, mentally and emotionally after successfully riding up a mountain.  Why?  Because this was about breaking down barriers and rebuilding our lives with hope and self-confidence.  At some point during the event we all conquered something that was holding us back in our lives.  For several of us this was the most physically and mentally demanding thing we had done since taking off the uniform.
My story was not dissimilar from many of the others and since I have returned I have received emails and messages asking me why fundraising money was spent on sending us to France.  It should also be remembered that I am not an employee or ambassador for Soldier On.  I don’t know the breakdown of the budget for Soldier On; but I do know that the vast majority of the Trois Etapes trip was funded by private sponsorship from Defence industry partners.  It should also be noted that both our photographer Matt and driver Bruce paid their own way for the entire trip!  Also, each of us that participated spent a large sum of money leading up to and during the event to fund various travelling expenses.
This post was supposed to be a wrap-of our final week in France.  Where we as a team made up of young Australian Veterans, toured the Belgium Battlefields of World War One, paid our respects at the graves of long dead Australian servicemen and visited the Menin Gate and saw the tens of thousands of forever young Australian men’s names etched in stone.  Instead I wrote a post defending Soldier On, my team-mates and myself.  I try to not let the negativity get the best of me, but when I am forced into a corner by dozens of abusive emails and messages I will defend myself and the others.
Chad
BELGIUM 014
.:WWI Cemetery:.
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.:WWI Cemetery:.
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.:WWI Cemetery:.
BELGIUM 024
.:WWI 100th Anniversary:.
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.:Team Soldier On and coach Scott Sunderland & co:.

Thank you to my Wife, daughter, family and friends.  Without your support I wouldn’t be here today, let alone have made over the French Pyrenees.
Thank you to my team-mates: Andy, Justin, Shane, Matt, Dan and Adam.  Hopefully you all know how much your support and encouragement meant to me.
Thank you to Scott, Bruce, Matt, Jodie, Kate and Jenine – none of this would have happened without your help and tireless efforts in supporting us.
Thank you to Soldier On for their incredible work and support: Pearl, Clare, Dion, Carlie, John, Danielle, Meredith, Anna and especially Tony – (for being a friend, a mentor and being you).

I Am Soldier On Cycling

Soldier On Cycling is about like minded people who support Soldier On and enjoy riding.

Some of us have served, some of us haven’t; some of us ride for recovery, some of us ride for fun.  But we all share the commitment to ensuring Australian veterans are afforded the support and help they deserve.

 

SOLDIER ON CYCLING IS ON FACEBOOK

 

Remembrance Ride 2014 – Part 4

DAY 3 – Thursday 24 April 2014 (Collector To Canberra – The Run Home)

After the media commitments with the Prime Minister were complete, we saddled up and began the ride towards Canberra and our final destination on this huge adventure; the Australian War Memorial.

I sat at the back of the pack with Robbie and watched as the PM was swamped by the sponsor’s representatives.  Slowly but surely, the Veterans had their chance to speak to him.  Our roll into Canberra was slow and steady as Mr Abbott controlled the speed up front with Scott.

As we descended along the Federal Highway towards Northbourne Avenue, we were joined by Mrs Janny Poate (mother of Private Robert Poate – KIA in Afghanistan 29 August 2012) who was riding her mountain bike.  She was ushered and helped to the front of the pack to speak with the PM.  One of the most memorable moments of the ride was seeing Jeffro pushing Mrs Poate past us and alongside Mr Abbott.

As we neared the last few kilometres of the ride, Robbie and I moved to the front and flanked the Prime Minister.  We were to escort him in the AWM and it was during this time I was able to speak with Mr Abbott.  I didn’t hold back.  I spoke not only of my struggles, but also that of my friends and the many others that have not been able to gain access to the appropriate support services.  He was receptive of what I was saying and also very aware of the steps DVA was taking to help veterans access support services once they have discharged from the ADF.

The remainder of the ride was quite relaxed with Mr Abbott speaking quite candidly and without reservation.  Our short leg up to the AWM sparked the PM’s desire to attempt a breakaway sprint which I quickly reigned back in.  We rounded the final round-a-bout and entered the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to the waiting crowd of supporters and media.

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.:Riding with the PM on Limestone Avenue:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Riding with the PM on ANZAC Parade:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Riding with the PM on ANZAC Parade:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Riding with the PM on ANZAC Parade:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Riding with the PM on ANZAC Parade:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Riding with the PM into the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Riding with the PM into the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Riding with the PM into the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Riding with the PM into the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Realising the ride is finally over at the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Meeting the Wife at the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Just a few of the supporters at the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Just a few of the supporters at the Australian War Memorial:.
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.:Soldier On CEO John Bale addressing the crowd and media:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:At the end of ride presentation:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:At the end of ride presentation:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Meeting Brumbies & Wallabies player David Pocock!:.
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.:At the end of ride presentation:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:At the end of ride presentation:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

At the end of the post-ride event/function I went home with my Wife and Parents and returned to the AWM a couple of hours later for a guided tour with some of the other other riders.  I was still excited but very fatigued by this stage.  With ANZAC Day the following day I was knew I wasn’t going to get much rest in the next 24 hours.  Before heading home to get ready for the night’s function I had to swing by my work to pick up the on-call phone (yep…winning at staff retention!).

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.:Carly & I at the Governor General’s residence after meeting Prince William:.

A huge thank you to my Wife, Parents, Sister, Brother-In-Law, Nieces and friends for their support leading up to and during the ride.

Thank you to Soldier On: John, Tony, Dion, Shane, Anna, Robbie, Pearl and Danielle.

Thank you to Scott Sunderland and the other members of Team Soldier On.

Thank you to Matthew Connors for the awesome photos.

Thank you to The Citadel Group, Mittagong RSL, Bushranger Hotel, Australian War Memorial, Dr Nelson, the Prime Minister and of course all the people that waved at us while we were riding!

 

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.:Post ANZAC Day recovery/back on the MTB ride:.

 

Remembrance Ride 2014 – Part 3

DAY 2 – Wednesday 23 April 2014 (Mittagong To Collector)

The second day of our ride along the Remembrance Driveway would see us ride 120km along the Hume/Federal Highway into Collector.

We pushed off at 09:00 after breakfast and coffee with the Soldier On Team in front of the Citadel Group riders.  Scott wanted us to start riding together and getting used to being side-by-side and wheel-to-wheel.  It wasn’t long before we were finding our rhythm and we were cruising down the Hume Highway at speed.

Our first stop was at the 32km mark with a couple of the sponsor riders opting to hop into to the support vehicles and rejoin us at the end of the day (to be honest this was the smart thing to do considering the climbing and fast pace that would soon be occurring).

Our second/lunch stop was at the 74km mark with a decision being made by both Scott and Soldier On event organiser TC that the slower riders would ride in the support vehicles until the 105km mark for safety reasons.  We were unable to average a safe speed, particularly on the long climbs, and it was becoming increasingly more dangerous with large trucks not being able to see us as they crested the hills.  This would definitely explain the burnt rubber we were smelling shortly before this stop.  While it wasn’t the most popular decision, it was the right one.

Our next 30km was an ad-hoc training session from the one and only Scott Sunderland.  It was fast bunch riding; something I am not very experienced with.  It certainly got the heart rate up and I was somewhat relieved when we eased up on the pace and the slower riders rejoined us for the roll into Collector.

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.:The end of Day 2 – Mittagong to Collector:. http://app.strava.com/activities/133569372
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.:We arrived at the Bushranger Hotel In Collector:.
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.:The Bushranger Hotel:.
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.:The thing that knocks on your bedroom window at night:.
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.:Sunset at Collector:.


DAY 3 – Thursday 24 April 2014 (Collector To Canberra – The First Bit)

Our final day of riding started early; before dawn.  I was up, packed and ready for the ride to the Lake George lookout where we would meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the final leg into the Australian War Memorial.

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.:The other Chad playing barista:.While the others were waiting

While the others were waiting patiently to start the final day’s riding, I was on the phone to Mix 106.3’s Kristen & Rod.

CLICK HERE to listen to my interview on MIX 106.3 Interview With Rod

Our ride to Lake George was extremely quick and I soon regretted my decision to wear my wind-stopper jacket.  Scott was pushing us along the Federal Highway at over 40km/hr for the 30km leg.

We reached the top of the Weereewa Lookout and patiently waited the arrival of the Prime Minister.

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.:Group shot with Prime Minister Tony Abbott:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

 

.:CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 4:.

Remembrance Ride 2014 – Part 2

DAY 1 – Tuesday 22 April 2014 (Sydney To Mittagong)

There was a lot of nervous energy amongst all the riders, in particular myself and Robbie.  We had spent a lot of the morning in front of the media and both of  us just wanted to get on our bikes.

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.:Almost time to start riding;.

At a little before 14:00 we finally rolled off onto the Hume Highway for the start of our three-day journey to Canberra.  The first day’s ride was scheduled to end at Mittagong, a relatively short 70km away.  The riding was slow and steady at first but we soon picked up the pace under the mentoring of Scott Sunderland.

After only an hour or so of riding, including a few small but taxing climbs, we stopped at the Frank Partridge VC Rest Area, for a quick rest stop.  By now some of the sponsor riders were feeling the effects of the climbs and little to no lead up training; but still they persevered.

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.:Quick stop at the Frank Partridge VC Rest Stop:.
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.:Photo op at the Frank Partridge VC Rest Area:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

There was a little bit of bush mechanic work on a stubborn seat post clamp before the group headed off towards Mittagong once again.

As before the pace began to slow and our group was banding together to keep the others on pace and more importantly on their bikes.

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.:Matt’s photo that sums up the entire ride:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

A quick re-org of the riding order saw a few of the slower riders moved up front to set the group pace and stop the rubber-band effect that was tiring those that were at the back.

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.:Hello says Chad to Matt in the support vehicle:. http://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

As the afternoon got a little colder and the shadows longer; concentration started to lapse among some riders.  A few instances of half-wheeling began to occur when suddenly two riders hit the road at around 30km/hr.  I was in the right lane and broke formation to avoid the carnage and quickly pulled over to the side of the road.  Amazingly there were no serious injuries to downed rider (carbon bikes don’t like such spills!).

After some first aid work on the downed riders they were ushered into the support vehicles, the bikes strapped to the wagon’s roof and we resumed riding our final leg into Mittagong.  We arrived a little after 17:00 and were greeted at the Mittagong RSL by the sub-branch representatives.

We checked into our rooms (apparently it’s funny to put two Chad’s in one room), showered and made our way over to the bar for some light refreshments and dinner at the bistro.  We were joined by the Australian War Memorial’s Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, for dinner and after a quick recap of the days activities and a run down of timings for the next day, it was time for some bike prep and then bed.

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.:The end of Day 1 – Sydney to Mittagong;. http://app.strava.com/activities/133569377


.:CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 3:.