Horrors of combat linger for returned Aussie soldier

Despite years of training for war, it still doesn't entirely prepare soldiers to watch their mates die and watch innocent people get killed.
Despite years of training for war, it still doesn't entirely prepare soldiers to watch their mates die and watch innocent people get killed. Australian Defence Force

WE SEE them as heroes; the bravest of them all.

The ones who fight for our country and bear witness to the most horrendous acts imaginable.

But sometimes, the things our soldiers see and do while fighting on the frontline are so horrific, even they need a helping hand when it comes to getting back to civilian life.

For one Warwick mother, watching her 21-year-old son return from Afghanistan, scarred from the events that were so explicitly played out in front of him, was heartbreaking.

"Physically he's fine, but it's the mental issues. I don't think anyone, except those who have done it, understands the things he saw and had to do," she said.

When he returned home in early December, she said she could tell her son wasn't the same as the boy who left her for Afghanistan six months prior.

"It's like that old saying, they leave for the army as a boy and return a man and that's exactly what has happened," she said.

"He's matured so much, but inside I can see he is still a kid and still just wants to be a 21-year-old."

She said the things her son saw while over there haunted his memory every day.

"He is a bit distant and is not coping with what he calls 'civilian life' - still talking in army terms," she said.

When soldiers return home from warfare, they are urged to take a week with a psychologist to de-brief and learn to cope with their emotions.

"My son said a lot of the boys didn't do it because they thought 'that psychologist on the other side of the desk does not know how I feel, he doesn't know what I have seen and he hasn't heard or been through what I have' and so they didn't go," she said.

"And that makes them angry that there is someone sitting there saying 'I know how you feel' when they don't."

While at war, soldiers form a brotherhood like no other and this Warwick mum said she knew that was getting her son through the tough times.

"The camaraderie between these boys is like an extended family but they can relate even more so than family because they have been through a lot more," she said.

"They're in contact almost every half hour and if one is feeling down they don't hesitate to call.

"They come from everywhere.

"They made a pact: 'we'll stick together no matter what time of day, or night, we don't care, if you need us you just call' so they can all get through this together."

She said despite two years of training for war, it still didn't entirely prepare the soldiers to watch their mates die and watch innocent people get killed.

"I don't think there is any way they (the government) could help more," she said.

"(My son) has explained to me that they have no idea what they're going into and he said when they get over there all of a sudden all their training kicks in and you've just got to do what you have to do to save your mates.

"He tells us stories of what happened and sometimes I have to say 'No, that's enough' because it's so horrific.

"Then he'll start showing me photos of the country and saying how beautiful the places were, then he'll switch back to the nasty stuff."

The mother said her son had already put his hand up to go back over the Afghanistan because his "mates are still over there".

This is just one version of a mother's heartache as she watches her son overcome the terrors of war.

"I don't think there is any way they (the government) could help more."

Reader poll

Do you think soldiers returning from war should have mandatory counselling or therapy?

This poll ended on 30 April 2013.

Yes. - 70%

No, it should be their choice. - 29%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  afghanistan, australian army, mental health, trauma, war



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