Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

Category: Mefloquine

16. Mefloquine Dispatches: Caravaggio, October 2012

It is 2012.

I am starting to get noticeably sick but I don’t know what from. Not all the physical symptoms have arrived. My tinnitus was always present but mild. I put the vertigo down to heat, bad ankles or alcohol. My teeth and gums are still good. My face hasn’t gone red as yet. The fine tremor in my hands hasn’t started. I spasm in my sleep but the terror of having been given epilepsy is in my future.

The black dog never goes away. It has been with me since at least 1999. It was accepted by the Army although they blame me for its occurrence. Over the years my family has become inured to its silent damage. My marriage hasn’t collapsed but the writing is on the wall.

I am watching the new Simon Schama series the Power of Art. We get to the episode dedicated to the life and works of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio.

I don’t know the first thing about Caravaggio. Some people are turned away from him. He is unstable yet he has a power to turn art into majesty. He pioneers the art form of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shadow. He is constantly in trouble. He drinks too much, prefers to sleep in cheap rooms and hang out with his cronies, who are little more than local bully-boys.

His art reeks of the dirt, sweat and blood of everyday life. In Young Sick Bacchus he makes God human. The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is portrayed as the brutal murder it would have been. The victim lying on the floor on the cusp of shadows, his assailant highlighted with blade in hand ready to finish the killing. It’s all too real for the Catholic Church.

Caravaggio kills a man in 1606 in a duel but it is actually little more than a cold blooded murder. He is exiled and tries to paint his way out of trouble. In a cruel twist of fate he is pardoned but imprisoned on his way home. He gets out of his prison but misses his boat. He dies walking back to Rome with the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. It is a gift for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Prince of the Catholic Church who has pardoned him.

I am captured by this painting. Caravaggio is Goliath. He has painted himself as a villain. The young David is surrounded by light. I finally get art because I see an artist I understand. I totally get Caravaggio. It helps explain what is going wrong in my head.

I too am Goliath. 

As Simon Schama noted in his documentary:

In Caravaggio’s time it was believed that artists were given their talent by God to bring beauty to the world and to put mortal creatures in touch with their higher selves or souls. Caravaggio never did anything the way it was supposed to be done.

In this painting of the victory of virtue over evil it’s supposed to be David who is the centre of attention, but have you ever seen a less jubilant victory? On his sword is inscribed “Humilitus Occideit Superbium”, that is, humility conquers pride. This is the battle that has been fought out inside Caravaggio’s head between the two sides of the painter that are portrayed here.

For me the power of Caravaggio’s art is the power of truth, not least about ourselves. If we are ever to hope for redemption we have to begin with the recognition that in all of us the Goliath competes with the David.”

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Image: David with the Head of Goliath (1601)

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

15. Mefloquine Dispatches: Suicide Prevention, early 1990

It is early 1990. I’m not sure of the exact date but I’m a member of a platoon of freshly minted recruits at 1RTB, the 1st Recruit Training Battalion.

It is starting to get cold because we are shivering through our ‘greens’. A ‘Secco’ or Section Commander calls out the names in the platoon. We yell out our presence. He marks his role.

We have been running PT for a while by this stage. The blokes who have made it this far don’t fall out on a whim or because they aren’t fit enough. We don’t stumble over each other as much as we try to run in step. Our fitness is steadily improving.

We have our webbing on. Today we will be introduced to the old art of bayonet fighting. SLR’s. Self Loading Rifles with pointy knives at the end. We are quietly excited.

We start marching. After a time we start running in step. As we are running along one of the section commanders points over to a set of trees.

“Gentlemen, over there is a tree. In that tree a recruit decided to hang himself. Let me be very clear. You are not to hang yourself. Hanging yourself will create a shit-storm of paperwork. I’ll have to fill out paperwork, Sergeant K* will have to fill out paperwork, the officers will have to fill out paperwork…”

He has run forward of the platoon and then spun around so as to face the running soldiers.

“I fucking hate paperwork”.

We all look at the tree. We look at the Corporal. He is grinning.

“So don’t fucking hang yourself”… he pauses … “Yes, Corporal” he puts it to us like a question that must be answered. It is not a request.

We scream out “Yes, Corporal”.

It is not loud enough. “I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU LOT” the Corporal yells back at us. His face has turned red.

“YES, CORPORAL”. Our scream echoes across the training grounds.

“BETTER”. He turns around and gets back into step near the front of the platoon.

The tree falls behind us.

It is 1990 and we have just been given our first suicide prevention lesson by the Australian Army.

Twenty-four years later I will tie my own noose. But that is in the future.

 

I don’t usually sign petitions. I’m not a big fan of Royal Commissions either. That said I fully support a Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides.

It’s time.

You too can sign here at change.org.

191106_Picture_SuicidePetition

Image: change.org

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

14. Mefloquine Dispatches: SGADF, 26th September 2019

It took me seven months to prove that I had probably been given Mefloquine back in 1997. Good enough for the SGADF anyways.

Not bad considering when I first requested information from Army Headquarters about my involvement in that Operation I was told I was never on it.

It has come at a real cost.

My health has noticeably deteriorated.

Oh, and I went insane twice. With another two months in the year to go this is a worrisome trend. N* has told me I only really kick-off every twelve to eighteen months. We started dating in 1999. I’m putting it down to the DVA process. Hoping it will get easier in the second year of dealing with them again.

On that note I signed off on my DVA approved rehabilitation plan today. It stipulates Bi-Polar, PTSD and Psoriasis as medical conditions.

I haven’t been diagnosed with Bi-Polar. Nor schizophrenia as yet. Both Repatriation Medical Authority accepted conditions of mefloquine exposure. I certainly haven’t claimed for them.

On the other hand, there is no mention of mefloquine even after the SGADF signed off on it.

One more hill, Digger… One more hill

 

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

13. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, 2000

I make the call. It is a Friday afternoon. Late but not yet knock off time.

I’m trying to get through to my Delegate. The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs has assigned me a delegate to investigate my claim for Depression. When my mates find out about this they avoid me. I’ve largely disconnected from the military by this time. The Army does not talk about mental health in 2000.

I’ve been trying to get help. The screams that I hear at night as I go to sleep don’t make any sense. I’ve been through my military documents, then my medical documents. Like the Army I miss the deployment and the omission. Six lines and a sign-off hastily written on the back of another soldier as we race on toward the Hercules readying for take-off.

I am paying for my own psychiatrist. He is expensive but wants to do more work. I have to work to keep a roof over my head. I’m selling my house to fund it all. There is no Non-Liability Health Care in 2000. There is no care once you leave the Army even if you can hear the screaming. You have to fight and scrap for every bit of assistance. The process is not just brutal, it’s a fucking meat-grinder. It has been chewing up sailors, soldiers and aircrew since 1976.

A man answers the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs phone line. It is not my delegate.

“Can I get through to G* please”.

“No mate, everyone has gone home for the day”.

“Ok, I’ll call back next week then”. I am still of the opinion that government departments like this are designed to serve people like me.

“Mate, don’t bother. I know who you are. You have been ringing all the time. Your claim has been dismissed. There is nothing wrong with you. You can try to appeal it but your just bunging it on. We know your type”.

With that he hangs up the phone.

I don’t call back. The door has been shut firmly in may face. It will take me nearly two decades to regain the courage to start the DVA process again.

000313_Letter_CDVA_Rejection

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

12. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Claremont Serial Killings, April 1997

We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.

There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.

We finish the practice session.

On the return to Campbell Barracks one of the Boys is reading the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 2016 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.

One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.

Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.

I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.

Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.

“Fuck off you idiots”.

We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.

To the Lost.

191021_Image_TheWA_ClaremontKillings

Image: The West Australian

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

Random Analytica: Mefloquine – Colonels & Generals

Mefloquine wasn’t just given to Diggers [Australian slang for Other Ranks]. Colonels and Generals got it too. They get sick and they die. They don’t believe the diagnostic overshadowing of PTSD makes any sense either. Some are even voicing their concerns.

Here is a list of Colonels and Generals who either received Mefloquine on Operations OR (more telling) refused to take it. Correct as at 20th October 2019. I’ll update accordingly.

 

Confirmed Mefloquine Exposure and Symptomology

18th October 2019 (Canada): Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire. UNAMIR (Rwanda 1993/94). Via W5. Romeo Dallaire joining lawsuit against government over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

In a W5 exclusive, Dallaire announced that he is joining a lawsuit against the Canadian government and Defence Department over an anti-malaria drug that he, and other soldiers , were forced to take on missions to Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Dallaire, who led the international peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994, has become the highest ranking soldier to join an unprecedented legal action by veterans over the use of the anti-malaria drug Mefloquine. He joins nearly 900 other veterans who claim the Canadian government and Department of National Defence “willfully ignored and concealed the risks” of the drug, which is marketed under the brand name Lariam.

Dallaire has been hailed a hero, both for his attempts to stop the genocide in Rwanda, but also for his outspoken admission that he struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

30th January 2019: Colonel Timothy Dunn (USA). Deployed (Sep – Dec 2006). Via the Military Times. ‘I plead with you to look at this very closely,’ retiree tells panel studying health effects of anti-malarial drugs. Excerpt:

Timothy Dunn, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was among those who told the committee they’d be willing to provide information.

” I open my self, my heart and soul and medical records to you,” Dunn said. “You have to do something to look at this closely and make a fair and just determination … there are many more than I who have had this problem.”

Dunn said he still suffers from insomnia, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, and dizziness.

22nd May 2016 (UK): General David Julian Richards. Operation Pallisar (2000). Via the Independent. British armed forces set to ban most prescriptions of controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam. Excerpt:

Lady Caroline Richards, the General’s wife, had also taken a keen interest in matter for a long time. She added “Wives and partners of people who had been affected by the use of Lariam approached me and described what had happened. There were some terrible, sad stories of trauma, of relationships ending, psychological problems. We heard about other forces which have stopped using Lariam, so this is obviously something which needed looking into.”

23rd November 2015 (UK): Major-General Alistair Duncan. Sierra Leone (1999). Via the Daily Mail. Has this highly decorated hero been driven mentally ill by an anti-malaria drug tourists are still given? Excerpt:

Today, however, he is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit near his home in Somerset. Tragically diminished, he has been incarcerated for ten months. He has lost the capacity to read and write; outbursts of aggression are punctuated by periods of torpor. He can be sweet-tempered and affectionate; remote and belligerent by turns. His wife, and a growing body of expert medical opinion, believe his psychiatric disorder has been caused, in part, by the controversial anti-malarial drug mefloquine, or Lariam, which he was given for six months in 1999 before being deployed to West Africa.

The Abstainers

31st August 2016 (UK): General Francis Richard Dannatt. Refused Mefloquine. Via The Guardian. Ex-army chief apologises to troops over anti-malaria drug. Excerpt:

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son’s experience with it.

Dannatt said his son Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa in the late 1990s. He was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the drug by his father’s army doctor.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

11. Mefloquine Dispatches: Full Bloom, 2012

This is a weird one, even by my standards.

I have bought a type writer over the weekend. It is a Lemair Deluxe 850TA. It comes with a travel case (so I guess I’m travelling at some stage). It comes with an additional ribbon. It is ancient like me.

I’m going to practice thank-you letters before I start writing my mefloquine memoir. No one will read my memoirs but I don’t care. I write for myself these days.

On my wall sits a photo of a beautiful young actor. Dakota Fanning. I ripped the page out of magazine a day before I get hospitalised in March. It has occupied a place on my memory board for months. I don’t know why I do some things but they all tend to turn out in the end. Vogue Australia has titled this cover ‘Full Bloom’.

IMG_20191014_0001

As I wonder who to thank first I look at my memory board and I am taken back to early the early 2010s and a package I received from Naomi Bloom.

I’m still doing Workforce Planning at this stage but also thinking about exiting. She is a legend in the industry. On the cusp of retiring. Although I have never met her you get a real sense of who she is via her online presence. She is small and smart. Rather than pursue a career in astro-physics in the 1960s she writes one of the first programs for Human Resources. Before that is even a thing. Back then anything to do with technology was for men only. She trail blazes a career in this male dominated hegemony. When she retires in 2016 the internet is full of interest and kudos. She writes still. Her most recent piece is on the importance of memory. How they sustain you in the tough times. How true!

When I meet her online I am trying to convince my final workforce planning organisation to use its data in a much smarter way. I am trying to embolden them to use Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) rather than their dated technology and processes. I’m not having much success.

I must have lamented to Naomi Bloom at some stage because after that she sends me a copy of her book on the subject which she wrote in the 1980’s/90’s. I go through it with some amazement. It is her Magnus Opus. Her little bit of history. The technology she talks about in her book becomes standard practice across the world of Human Resource Management in the decades that follow. It is an amazing piece of writing which gets lost in the rush of history. She also sent a copy of her book to one of the young up-and-comers in the industry. I’m sure his copy has a proud place on his bookshelf.

Her book and short letter comes as a surprise. They are a tonic. When she mails these books, the world is in a hurry but she has made time to send them all the same.

Those small acts of kindness throughout my struggle have kept me going. Naomi Bloom, you probably don’t even remember sending that book to me but thank-you all the same. Your book is currently in storage but I am looking forward to returning it to a bookshelf soon. It is a part of my history and a good memory.

Good memories sustain you in the tough times.

 

Updates

14th Oct 2019: Naomi kindly commented on Twitter about my post. I had to add the Magnus Opus part. A new memory!

191014_Twitter_NaomiBloom

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

10. Mefloquine Dispatches: Acceptance, 2019

My acceptance story actually started a month ago when I penned my first letter. My Request to Darren Chester. I’m not sure if he read it or not. I honestly don’t care. I laugh and I cry as I write my stories. I write for myself.

I have some AMAZING people helping me with this.

I used to hate the RSL. I didn’t understand the sub-branch setup when I first go in. I got dragged in by a job services provider. I had slept in my car the night before. I was so embarrassed by my situation I didn’t return for a year. I was off the grog by then. Was holding down a part-time job in a bottle-shop. Lived by myself in a cabin. Was restoring my relationship with my kids.

My RSL advocate is an ex-Navy man. He was on the HMAS Melbourne after it had sunk two of our own ships. The HMAS Melbourne was indirectly linked to 161 allied sailor deaths. Plus all the trauma afterwards. His hands shake. He has a condition which makes him shake to some degree all the time. Yet, he chooses to come in and help out veterans like me. He takes extra time too. All of his folders are fatter than other advocates because he does the due diligence. After I first meet him I kick-off in his small office. He still invites me back again. The second time I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s my pattern. He gets it.

Then there is my GP. She is an older lady. Has an amazing brain and a thousand stories. She is still a country GP in a world that doesn’t respect the connectivity that a Doctor can have with a community. She first worked with veterans in the 1970s before there was even a DVA. One of her first patients was gassed in the trenches of WWI. Changes of light would kick him off. He died screaming because the systems we have were set up for the projection of war power, not the assistance required for the men and women who stand on the wall. She has had her own struggles. She gets it.

She points me toward a Psychologist. I didn’t go to him for help on this. I thought I might have some PTSD but I’m unsure. He listens quietly at times. Interjects with his own stories as well. He sees the PTSD but also something deeper. The second time I see him I am shaking so much it takes me an hour to calm down. He is like me but older. He flew into Vietnam as a specialist at the end of that war. He jumps out of a chopper on a hill and still carries the bursitis today. He has a girl’s name! Everyone mistakes him for a girl when they first write it down. Think on that for a moment. He soldiered in Vietnam with a girl’s name! How tough is this guy.

When I finally pinpoint the Mefloquine I immediately admit myself to the local ER [Emergency Room]. I’m ready for the long sleep but I’ve made a promise to be there for the kids. My ER doctor is a combat veteran. What are the chances! Of all the doctors I get when I find out about this I get a combat vet. I tell him my suspicions. He takes me seriously. He shipped into Timor Leste in 2006 with Op ASTUTE. I know nothing about this operation. I avoid all things East Timor. He tells me they dropped mefloquine in 03’ because it was sending everyone crazy. That line alone saves me. I start to dig. Then I start to dig deeper.

My psychologist points me toward a psychiatrist. We don’t know who to choose because my thing is a bit of an outlier. I get an older gent who moves heaven and earth to get me a bed. When we first talk I’m on a different planet. I look at the puzzles he has adorning his rooms in fascination. At a much later date I meet another psychiatrist. He is originally from Pakistan but calls Australia home now. He takes the time to read my stuff. Talks me down. Explains why it is important to accept that my condition has a mental health element. They are both the smartest men in the room and yet they don’t get it, not yet anyway.

Yesterday I sat down with my first ever Occupational Therapist. She is young but not too young. She is professional. Her partner is an ex-AJ [Army Jerk]. His time was spent in the Sands. Didn’t do the malarial zones. Has had his battles too. I tell her I’m glad. It means I don’t have to explain absolutely everything. She writes copious amounts of notes as I rattle of my disjointed tale. She explains the process, where we go from here. We agree to not use the word rehabilitation. There is no cure for what I have. It’s all management from here.

I’ve accepted that I won’t be cured. The disease has already done too much damage to the person I once was. The person it has created is interesting though. He can be intense, he can talk too much. When he kicks off he can be a terror but most of the time he just quietly sits at the back of the room or at home when he muses and writes. He has accepted the disconnection. Enjoys the silence. Or the music when he has the headphones on. I think I can do something important with this. I don’t know what it is yet but I don’t want to go to the grave SCREAMING. Not like my old troop sergeant. He was such a good bloke.

I don’t want to be one of those veterans who screams at the injustice of it all. Hell, when I signed up possibly dying for your country was part of the GIG.

It’s been a long time since I signed that paperwork in 1989.

I know everyone’s experience with quinoline is different. There are no first prizes here for suffering. We are all on our own journey and doing the best we can.

My new journey started this week. I have stopped screaming. I have accepted my fate and will make the best of what I have left.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

9. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Joker, 1997 & 2019

When I find out in March 19’ I send myself over the edge. I have pushed too hard. Way too hard. I’m almost 500-days free of alcohol. I’m using St. John’s Wort to assist with sleep. It also heightens memory recall. I’m going through the horrors. I’m writing in a note book. I ask a simple question. Did the Army turn me into the Batman or The Joker?

I go insane again in late September 19′. This time I’m drinking. I made 537-days before I just gave up. It’s too much. I’ve accepted that I turned into The Joker back in the day. ANZAC Day 97′, I launch at a group of other AJs [Army Jerks]. I have no fear. I’m beating one of them to death in a nightclub because he has been impolite. The guys grab me. Put me in a taxi. The next day I’ll be in hospital. Anaphylaxis is mentioned. Allergies, they ask? I’m calm by the time I hit the hospital. I love medics and nurses.

I bury a friend a month after my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I tell the Land Commander the radios are killing us. I farewell my Dad on a bed covered in blood. My face turns red in 2014. Psoriasis. It’s an accepted condition of Mefloquine. My Dad doesn’t die and I don’t talk to him for 20-years. I’m lucky. I speak to him on the phone in 2017. He dies the next year. We never say our goodbyes face-to-face. Another regret. He leaves me $10,000. I use it to get sober. I start getting my memories back. My head is a horror show.

Anyway, this will be my last horror story. I now live quietly in a small cabin with no hot running water and an outside dunny. I isolate when I feel The Joker coming on. I love the peace and the silence. Being disconnected is part of the disease.

As I watch The Joker I see the similarities. I have written similar notes. I’m adopted. I wash my Mums hair. I have a different laugh. A different dance. The same crazed run from the cops. I’ve been running for 22.5-years.

I write. It will help some, hurt others. There’s a bit of Batman in there. It doesn’t matter. Do I look like a guy with a plan?

I have grief. I have pain. I have no regrets.

191021_Image_Joker

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

 

If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.

8. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dr Pepper 2.2. 2011 & 1992

This mefloquine memory kicked off in 07’. Then again in 11’ and most recently in early October 19’. 

I don’t keep more than a hundred photos or trophies from my decade of soldiering. Especially in the 1990s when photo’s meant going to a Kodak shop and paying for them to be printed up. Photos are expensive. When I deploy with the ODF [Operational Deployment Force] to the USS Tarawa in 1992 I’m glad that they are handing out brochures as we board in Freemantle. I stow it away in my pack somewhere. It survives long enough to be added to my 1992 photos. I look at it every couple of years and some memories come back.

The first real memory hook is actually a book. We have a bookshelf at Mincom for people to add or to take away as they please. The consultants at Mincom travel the world. A lot of them are ex-AJs [Army Jerks]. We are all still readers in 2006. I feel at home at Mincom. I spend almost five years with them.

Although the first book in the series was written in 2004 I happen across World at War 2.1: Weapons of Choice in early November and finish it by the 11th November 2006. I buy the third book outright at an airport somewhere. The series was that good. I finish the third book on the 5th January 2007. I keep notes on each fictional book I read. I count the dead. John Birmingham writes ‘splodey’ books. War. Fast paced. Easy to read on planes.

John Birmingham is talking about Gatling defence systems in the first book. Ceramic bullets. Next generation shit. It reminds me of the Gatling defence system I see on the USS Tarawa. No drones yet. The missile they shoot down is towed behind what looks to be a private jet. It’s impressive. A rip of bullets shreds the missile to pieces in seconds. They fall into the sea. Everyone on the Australian side is impressed. We don’t have that level of protection as yet. I’m hope we do now.

I relate the story to the author in 2011. He talks about the importance of having strong female characters in his speech during his government funded book tour. After dinner, we are both telling our little war stories over a whisky in Canberra in the same pub. He has an ability to both talk and to listen. I’m a total nerd after I get out. I wonder what we talk about in our mild alcoholic daze hours later. Certainly ceramic bullets. I’m fascinated by the new technology that our Army is getting these days. He is fine company.

1111 - John Birmingham (1)

The mefloquine memory I got in early October 19′ was of a different story. I was down the corner store looking for a Pepsi Max. They have moved the store around to limit shoplifting. Where the Pepsi’s once were are now Dr Peppers. I remember my first Dr Pepper. It was in the Recreation Room on the USS Tarawa.

The ship is so big it has its own PX store. We all buy souvenirs. I buy a pair of Oakley’s which I’ll never wear. My best friend and I play the old-school arcade games. The HMAS Tobruk has nothing like this. We watch the US Military news channel in the small cinema. I ask M* would he like a softdrink. I have a pocket full of quarters ready to go. I get him a Mountain Dew. I get myself a Dr Pepper.

As it turns out Dr Pepper is disgusting. Too much corn syrup I think. I prefer the Mountain Dew. M* agrees to swap. The news channel bores us so we go back to the couple of older arcade games the ship has. We chat with the Marines. I always think fondly of Marines after this trip. Marines are awesome. These guys have just recently sailed from Kuwait.

M* and I start chatting with another group of Marines. They are amazed that ‘In Living Color’ is one of our favourite shows. White guys shouldn’t like that sort of humour but we do. Australians are pretty cool too. One of them offers to buy us a round of soft-drinks.

“Don’t make it Dr Pepper mate, that stuff will kill you”, I say.

Everybody laughs. The Yanks love our accent.

ddmm1992_Brochure_USMC_USSTarawa

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.