Life in the armed services has its perks including health care, travel, all meals and accommodation and uniform. The skills learned are applicable for life and mate ship through shared adversity is legendary.
However, there are dark sides to being in the Defence forces yet these are infrequently revealed.
More than 50 incidents of concussion.
In 1996, Brad Fewson enlisted in the Army reserves and joined the Australian Regular Army in 1998 –as an infantry paratrooper serving in Indonesia, becoming a dog handler with both the Army and NSW Police, served with the US Army in Iraq and finished his military career as a senior instructor at Kapooka.
During these 18 years of service, including dozens of jumps, head injuries were part of the territory. “Every jump involved a blow to the head on landing; some were harder than others due to the angle and speed of the jump, and the heights,” he explained. “On two occasions, I was knocked unconscious for undetermined times yet, when I gained consciousness, I resumed the exercise without any assessment or treatment.”
‘During service in East Timor, I fell down a ravine while on patrol in the mountains of the Ocussi enclave in inclement weather. My head hit the rocks several times, my back was injured and I have no idea for how long I was unconscious and I still can’t remember anything before or after that fall. Once I was found, I completed the week-long patrol in spite of my injuries.”
‘During a Commando selection course at Singleton I was doing a navigation exercise which included a demolition course with live fire and explosions. One went off only 150 metres away and I was knocked over by the blast wave. Ironically, the navigation routes were changed after this incident report was lodged.”
Between 2005 and 2006 when Mr Fewson was a United States Defence contractor, he was affected by blast exposure from more than 50 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) with 13 in particular as close as two metres away. These concussive blasts added to the growing list of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) incidences.
In 2014, he collapsed and was admitted to hospital and so started the merry-go-round of tests to diagnose the litany of symptoms he was experiencing.
To say he was a physical and emotional wreck is an understatement. “I saw many specialists in Australia yet there wasn’t any clear diagnosis as to what my symptoms indicated. At the Cerebrum Brain Centre in Dallas, Texas, slow chronic degradation by repetitive brain trauma was diagnosed, with suspected chronic traumatic encephalitis.”
“In addition, Parkinson’s disease had been caused by all the brain traumas and, by the end of 2015, I was on walking canes and in wheelchairs due to the severity of the injuries.”
Mr Fewson refused to imagine this was how the rest of his life was going to be. He researched information from Veteran associations in the United States to learn other ways of recovering after such severe traumas. Being fit and strong was integral as was the need to understand the effects of certain foods on human physiology.
Jason Frost joined the Army in 1999 eventually serving in overseas operations as a Commando in Operation Slipper in Afghanistan and medically discharged in 2015 due to multiple injuries as a result of his military operations. Post Traumatic Stress was just one of the injuries sustained which saw Sgt Frost taking handfuls of medications morning and night to ‘manage’ the symptoms.
“I have a back injury, nerve damage and a variety of other niggling pains, all as a result of the injuries. At the end of 2016, I weighed more than 100kgs and swallowing handfuls of pills morning and night,” he described. “Like Brad, I realised I didn’t want this to be my existence for the rest of my life so something different had to be done.”
The Adaptive Athlete
Brad Fewson collaborated with Jason Frost and others “to take control of our lives” instead of relying on medications and sessions with specialists. The Adaptive Athlete charity was born so Defence colleagues and other Emergency Service Organisation personnel experiencing similar pains and frustrations could participate in regular training sessions in the gym, learn about nourishing foods, enjoy social contact, feel safe beyond their house and learn about civilian life.
The Adaptive Athlete’s program is restoring mobility, providing regular social contact and safety for many contemporary veterans who have not been able to leave the confines of their houses, sometimes for years. Mr Fewson’s experience as a senior instructor at Kapooka enables him to design specific training and exercise programs according to various injuries and restrictions.
“No matter how weak or frail someone is, there is a perfect introduction to exercising and then build from there,” he said. “Starting is the most important step of all.”
“A veteran is anyone who has served in the Defence forces, not only overseas, and those in Emergency Service Organisations including ambo’s, firies, police and SES personnel and their families,” said Mr Fewson.
On Saturday, 28 October, they are hosting the Veteran’s Health and Fitness Expo in Wagga, coinciding with Department of Veterans Affairs Health week. This event is open to everyone interested in being at peak health.
“The purpose of this free Expo is to showcase businesses, organisations and services in the Riverina, and nationally, which provide any form of health, fitness, dietary, massage, or other services to the Veteran and Emergency Services communities,” Mr Frost explained.
The ‘Unbroken Fitness Challenge’ is an event for individuals and teams and we anticipate 100 stall holders will share their health and fitness wares at this community event. Interested stall holders can call Jason Frost on 0412 207 859 for more information. Applications close on 1 August 2017.
A longer-term plan of the Contemporary Veterans Association is to establish a one-stop centre in Wagga where all relevant information is located for Veterans. At present, there is no central location resulting in a very fragmented situation entailing contacting multiple agencies which is frustrating, inefficient and time-consuming.