It’s been my great privilege throughout my journalism career, to interview many of our service men and women.
This story originally appeared in the August 2019 edition of The Sandgate Guide
For many of our brave men and women in the armed services, their battles continue long after they return home.
Brighton personal trainer, Tim Cuming, spent 25 years in the army as a paratrooper and knows all too well the demons our returned soldiers face.
Together with another veteran, Ray Carson, he has launched SMEAC Inc, an organisation aimed at helping reintegrate veterans into civilian life and the workplace.
“The fact is, there are just too many veterans taking their own lives,” Tim said.
“We’ve had 41 killed in combat since 2001 and in that same time, we’ve lost 577 to suicide.
“Too many mates have been lost – we’re talking about tough, brave men who go into a fight when they’re deployed, but they’re losing the fight when they get home.”
The battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one that Tim has faced personally and, along with many other ex-soldiers, continues to face each day.
“For someone with PTSD, they may look fit and healthy, but it’s something that can come on at any time,” Tim said.
“In a war zone, your body becomes used to being in a state that adjusts to keep you alive.
“When you’re in Baghdad, those instincts and that condition keeps you alive but when you get home, it’s hard to get out of that state.”
SMEAC Inc launched in April this year, and the organisation has just taken possession of Camp X-Ray on the Sunshine Coast.
The property was used for school camps throughout the 1990s, but has since fallen into disrepair.
SMEAC Inc aims to redesign and reinvigorate the camp site, making it useful again for schools, corporate retreats and camps for at-risk youth.
The entire operation will be set up, staffed and run by veterans.
“Our motto is – reconnection, reintegration and retraining with purposeful and meaningful employment,” Tim said.
“These guys need employment around people they can trust – employment with purpose and meaning, with their mates.
“The idea behind this is, we’re not a charity, this is not a handout. This is vets working with each other.
“We’ve all been to the edge and it’s mateship that keeps blokes alive.”
Tim added it was important for veterans to feel as though they were a part of something.
“This program is all going to be run by veterans and they can undertake training while they work – certificates in personal training, or outdoor education, things like that,” he said.
“We’re also hoping to work with Youth Justice and do programs for kids who are at risk. You know, a lot of these kids just need a mentor and they need meaningful structure.”
Tim said progress had been slow when dealing with the mental health issues of former soldiers.
“I joined the army in 1984, when I was 17 and I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 40,” he said.
“During my time in the army, it wasn’t talked about – I had no idea what PTSD was.
“We are seeing some generational change, but still there are blokes at 19, 20, 22, there’s no measure of normal for them – they’re broken and they don’t have a yardstick to measure what’s normal.
“But the response to this project has been phenomenal and I just think that if we work together, there’s nothing we can’t do.”
For information on SMEAC Inc, visit: http://www.smeac.org.au or search Facebook for SMEAC Inc.