The march is a 41-kilometre fundraiser for veterans and emergency services personnel suffering post-traumatic stress. All of the proceeds will be split evenly between Operation K9 Assistance Dogs, the Road Home Wellbeing Program, Largs Bay RSL, and the Henley and Grange RSL. Beginning from Seacliff at 5am and concluding at Largs Bay at 4pm, each kilometre walked was in remembrance of the 41 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. In true military fashion, extra weight was carried by some of the walkers to more closely resemble the load a soldier would carry.
My congratulations go to the event organiser, Mr Chad McLaren, for organising this great initiative. Despite the problematic weather, there was a great turnout, including soldiers from the 7th Royal Australian Regiment, as well as some emergency services personnel. The march was led by a mounted guard, magnificently dressed in World War I Light Horse uniforms. Former NRL player and professional boxer, Mr Joe Williams, also participated. He is a much sought after speaker on mental health issues. Mr Williams runs a suicide prevention and wellbeing education workshop, primarily for young people, called The Enemy Within. Mr Williams works with disengaged youth in primary and secondary schools, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, as well as correctional facilities.
One of the worthy recipients of the fundraiser was Operation K9, which is a joint program operated by RSL South Australia and the Royal Society for the Blind. These assistance dogs are provided to returned defence force personnel who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress due to operational service. These dogs are proving invaluable by supporting independence and social interactions for returned soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress. Trained to identify flashback episodes and divert veterans from the effects of depression, Operation K9 assistance dogs are instrumental in helping soldiers’ recovery. The comprehensive training course these assistance dogs must undergo means that each dog costs in excess of $25,000 to breed, raise and train.
Another worthy cause, The Road Home, was established by the Repat Foundation to raise awareness and support health and wellbeing research into a range of conditions. The Road Home is a national brand created in collaboration with the Hospital Research Foundation to strengthen their position as the leading health and wellbeing organisation for veterans, emergency services personnel and their families. Having built on the Repat Foundation’s world-leading independent research over 20 years, The Road Home extends this excellence in wellbeing advocacy and research nationwide.
The Road Home has backed major research projects in mental health, cancer, patient wellness and rehabilitation. Currently underway is a project focused on investigating psychological disorders and symptoms amongst contemporary female Australian Defence Force members by analysing predictors for mental disorders and psychological symptoms amongst Australian servicewomen and female war veterans. The project is believed to be an Australian first.
In another example of high-quality research, a 2014 study by the post-traumatic stress unit of the Repat uncovered significant benefits to veterans who undertook weekly yoga sessions. It was reported that those who participated in the study saw significantly reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress as well as improved sleep quality and overall quality of life after just eight weeks of yoga.
I wish to extend my thanks and offer my congratulations to Mr Chad McLaren for his strong advocacy not only in veterans affairs but in Indigenous issues as well. As well as volunteering his time in remote Aboriginal communities, Mr McLaren is a managing director of Around the Campfire, a not-for-profit focused on improving Indigenous health in remote regions. Mr McLaren takes great pride in serving his community. Whether it is working as an on-site paramedic or in his past duties as a medic and soldier with the Australian Defence Force, Mr McLaren can always be trusted to lend a hand to those in the community who need it most.
I commend his fundraising and community service, and look forward to attending the next Walk for a Veteran march. Next year I hope to have the opportunity to complete all of the 41 kilometres. I also pray that the walk will never need to be lengthened, with Australian Defence Force personnel remaining safe on their overseas service.