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 we read 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 1996 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.
Image: The West Australian
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.
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.
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’.
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.
14th Oct 2019: Naomi kindly commented on Twitter about my post. I had to add the Magnus Opus part. A new memory!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the second day officially. My first call-up. My first overseas adventure. I have befriended a colleague from the United States the night before. He is impressed by my local knowledge and my willingness to learn Spanish. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Salvador Allende, Augusto Pinochet and the 1973 coup. With a small baby at home and a job that eats up to 60-hours per week it’s a struggle but I manage to get the basics before we fly-out from Brisbane. N* is happy for me, she knows I’ve been waiting for a call-up all my life.
As we landed the day before you could feel a mood in Chile. It’s a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Michelle Bachelet flew into the country the day before as well. Our driver excitedly pointed out the reason why he had to move lanes. I see the fast cars first. I’m good at scanning for danger, looking for threats. It sparks a memory. Once upon a time I might have been in those fast cars. Not anymore. It has been nine years since I received my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I’m just an observer now. The motorcade screams by. I am witnessing history and I love it.
General Augusto Pinochet is not yet dead. He is just a sick old man who has been under house arrest for some years. He will be dead by years end. My American colleague, C* is explaining it all over a glass of excellent Chilean wine. It’s very late but that’s how the South Americans roll. I’m an owl anyway. We agree to catch up the next day. He wants to take us on a tour but if you go to Santiago you must have lunch at the Mercado Central (the Fish Markets). He will organise a driver to show us around a bit.
I’m very happy that C* is doing the tour on Saturday. He has been in Chile many times before. He first visited Chile in the late 1980s when the General ran things. He remembers seeing the APCs [Armoured Personnel Carriers] lined up each morning ready to go out for the arrests. He remembers when Santiago dripped with fear.
The car comes to pick us up. There are four of us. We drive out of Las Condes toward the old quarter of Santiago. The driver is an old man. He doesn’t speak English but C* has excellent Spanish. Our driver is very happy today. In a few hours Michelle Bachelet will be sworn in as President. He is a big fan.
Though he is happy you can tell by the shape of his shoulders that he has been bent by the weight of the things he has done and seen. On his rear view mirror hangs a necklace with a small grain of rice in it. On that grain of rice is the face of Salvador Allende.
C* is translating. The driver is telling us his story as we pass the Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos. A part of the stadium is still smoking. Someone tried to burn it down in the last couple of days. It is a football stadium. For nine months it was a concentration camp. The driver and his wife were picked up by the military in 1973 and were held in the bowels of the football stadium/concentration camp. They were picked up because they actively supported Allende at university. Thousands of people were held in that stadium. The driver’s wife was picked out one morning and executed in front everyone in the middle of the football pitch. It was done professionally. One bullet to the back of the neck. Quick. Our driver was tortured there, then moved along. He was one of the lucky ones. He has lived with fear all his life but he now has hope.
The two girls who are travelling with us are horrified by this small piece of history. The driver looks in his rear view mirror directly at me. A tear of sorrow has spilled down his cheek. We share a moment. This is his story and I heard it with the reverence it deserved. I feel his sadness today as I remember it.
The moment passes. We drive off to the Mercado Central for lunch.
I am so very grateful that I was born in a country like Australia. A country that accepted Michelle Bachelet on her way to East Germany and exile. A country where old Generals just sign legislation. They do not re-task football stadiums and turn them into concentration camps. Nor do they delegate death warrants to the Colonels.
I live in a country without summary executions, military death squads or concentration camps. For that I am very grateful.
When it was issued by the World Health Organisation I was still at school. I wasn’t interested in global issues. I should have read it but I don’t. I’m getting my final paperwork ready for the Army. I’m failing school. The Army accepts Year 10 and I have good grades to that point. School seems so pointless. Something is kicking off in the Middle East. We are going to smash Saddam Hussein in the fucking teeth. I don’t want to miss out on any action. I’m still too young in 1989 but I am slotted in for Basic Training early next year. I am 16-years old. I am so Green.
I’m good judoka. I’m not interested in black belts, I just love the training. I train twice during the week and on weekends if we get enough interest. My Sensei is amazing. He is a psychiatric nurse. He is tough. We laugh as he tells us the story of the bloke who tried to jump him in the supermarket. It supposed to be a joke but W* throws him. The checkout chick is terrified. It’s a great story. I meet him a year or two later. I’m home on leave. I’ve put on 15kg and I’m Army tough. As we train one of the kids clumsily kicks me in the balls as we practice sacrifice throws. It’s an accident but I’m in agony. W* tells the story to the other bouncers at the nightclub he is working at part-time that night. I’m still tender. We laugh. I get free entry and a drink voucher. I feel like a God in the early 90s but that hasn’t happened yet.
I’m working in a greasy Indian restaurant on weekends. The Indian family who own it treat me like one of their own. I get paid $10 per hour cash-in-hand (which is big money back then). I smell like sauce as I go to school on Mondays. The smell lingers till Wednesday. Indian food smells when you do the dishes. It takes me years to get coached into an Indian restaurant with my best friend and his girl. The food is amazing. I’m catching up with another friend and her man next week. We are eating Indian.
I’m so busy. I’ve been training for years to get this far. I’m an accomplished Venturer. I teach others how to abseil, orient a map or whatever. My Venturer leader is an amazing soldier. He is old but still fit. He smokes constantly. Under the stars one night he tells me how he started smoking. He is on patrol in Malaysia back in the day when his best mate cops the full blast of something. He is covered in his blood. Bits of flesh drip off him. When he gets in front of a medic they think he might be damaged. His mate cops the full blast, he walks away without a scratch. The medic puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That was his first smoke. I’m sixteen and this amazing man is sharing his real story. We have a moment. I’ll meet other amazing soldiers in the future. Men and Women. We will share moments. I’ll forget it all.
It’s been 30-years since the World Health Organisation issued their warning.
I wonder why they never followed up on it?