Random Analytica

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

Tag: Army

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.

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.

4. Mefloquine Dispatches: Harley Quinn, 1997

I’m told by my GP that PTSD is just like shrapnel. Only this year did I learn that I had shrapnel in my arm back in the 90s. I don’t believe in PTSD. Now I’m trying to remove it from my head.

Not all memories are awful. Some are wonderful.

It’s late 1997. I’m doing my Secret Squirrel course in Melbourne. I’m seeing three different women in Townsville, which is unusual for me. I am operating on muscle memory and I’m certainly not looking for love.

We meet in the gym. I feel underweight for Special Forces. I’m eating seven meals a day. I work out morning and night. I still don’t feel right.

She is with two friends from other postings. I know her friends well enough to walk over and start a conversation. One of the girls is a great rugby player who also happens to be gay. She doesn’t make a big deal about it because homosexuality is still banned by the Army. The other girl has a beautiful face and a kind smile for anyone. A decade later I hear (third-hand) that she got ‘schrapped’ in the Sands on patrol with the Boys. Her face is now damaged.

I feel so sorry for everyone who carries scars now.

It’s late 1997 again. I start to chat to Harley Quinn. I know her but not well. Like most people in the peace-time Army everyone knows everyone after a few years, especially in your own Corps. I think we last caught up in Darwin in 95 but I can’t quite remember. I take a break from my work-out. We start to talk. She gets a constant stream of interruptions. She is not classically beautiful but she has a natural attractiveness that draws admirers. She knows everyone. She talks easily with those who deserve it. Dismisses time-wasters. She commands attention. She is in the prime of her youth. I get a lift from our conversation. By her presence. We all agree to meet at the mess for dinner.

A fortnight later we are in a trinity of nightclubs. It’s just Harley Quinn and me. Our friends cannot keep up. We move from one nightclub to the next and then back again. We dance for hours. We laugh with absolute joy.

We leave the building with our friends. We are both spent. The sun is out. The light surprises us both. I think we have both fallen hard. We hold hands. We really hold hands. It’s a special moment. The future looks bright.

Tears stream down my face as I have this memory yesterday. I use movement to guide the memories. I remember back to 1997. As I dance away I still don’t know anything about mefloquine. I certainly don’t know I was given it six-months previously. My face hasn’t turned red yet. That doesn’t happen for another decade and a half. I’m slowly turning into The Joker but I think I’m fine.

I get more memories of my Harley Quinn. We break up in 1999. It’s a hard break-up. A horror story for another day. She has been deployed to Bougainville on Operation BEL-ISI. The Australian Defence Force is testing a new anti-malarial drug on the troops. The Generals are excited about its potential. It’s called Tafenoquine.

It has a nickname too. Mefloquine 2.0

191021_Image_HarleyQuinn

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

 

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.

3. Mefloquine Dispatches: Raven, 1990s

It really kicked off in early 2019. The vivid memories have been replaced by flashbacks. It’s hard to describe. I try to explain it to 11M. It comes and goes in waves. He is both interested and worried. As far as they know I never went to war. I’m almost certain they are right but I’m trawling through the evidence now. There isn’t much. I never kept many photos. I certainly didn’t share them with the kids. Now, all of my memories are questioned. It was so long ago.

My 14M gets involved. We get side-tracked. We are discussing Bruce Lee for some reason. My mind flips to another memory. I remember his son dying on the set of Raven.

“Raven”, I say excitedly. We used Raven radios after we got rid of the PRC-77s. The terminology is coming back because my advocate wants me to apply for my back and hips.

The three of us jump on the computer. 14M loves electronics and Army radio’s make for an interesting breakfast topic.

I type in ‘raven radio Australian Army’. There are four lines of pictures shown. I’m explaining to 14M about how the Army was finally starting to go digital in the early 90s when my 8M comes up to give me a hug.

“Look at this guy Dad”. He points at a young soldier talking on a radio. It’s on the second line of photos.

I look. “It’s ME!” A ghost from 1992 I think. I haven’t seen this photo for almost 30-years. I get an image of CPL S* straight away. It’s the hill behind the Squadron. He isn’t in this picture but he will be close-by. The last time I really talked to him was at Campbell Barracks in 1997. He touched base via social media a few years previously. We talked about dead friends. I closed that social media account not long after. Too many ghosts reaching out.

“The chopper is on the next hill, Digger…”

Grange

Image: Google

 

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.