What 'square away' means to Zak

Communication is key to remote weapon systems and mental health
By Zak C 

Serving your country can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be extremely taxing. I joined the Royal Australian Navy straight out of high school and spent the next ten years on patrol boats and shore establishments around the country operating and maintaining remote weapons systems.

Spending long periods of time at sea builds up a particular feeling of self-sufficiency and fortitude. Add to that the structure and hierarchy of the military providing clear direction to life, and you are left with a sense of clearly defined purpose. While this helps to build resilience and drive, it can also make it very hard to accept you cannot always tackle a challenge alone.

During service, every step of the way you know what you need to achieve, where you are going next and how long it will take. Squaring away tasks and worries in this context seems relatively straightforward; you double check all your equipment, make time to speak to friends and family and address any outstanding admin before you set sail.

For me, the real challenge started when I left my operational postings and started re-entering a normal civilian society. Not knowing what my next goal would be or where my next mission would take me left me directionless and traumas I had faced started to surface. I had never needed to ask for help and I did not want to then, in case it was seen as a sign of weakness.

Overcoming this stigma was a real challenge, but once I did the results were immediate.

The people in my life, as I always knew they would, were there to help me find my new path forward. Communicating with them about what I was going through in an open and honest manner led me to understand that the feeling of being directionless is not uncommon in veterans or even in broader society.

Everyone manages change and stress in different ways so there is no single solution when you find yourself overwhelmed or lost. Getting an outsider’s perspective is often helpful, as even a close friend or family member may see things quite differently to you.

For me, finding people that had shared life experiences and were feeling similar emotions helped me establish myself outside of military life and start setting new goals.

Today, in my role as an Open Arms peer worker I help people who are going through similar things. I am able to connect them with counselling and support services as well as being there to experience the transition with them and helping them get squared away in new ways.

Mental health challenges do not discriminate. In my experience, no-one is completely immune, regardless of what they have done or achieved in life, or how resilient their military training has made them. We all face moments of crisis and during those times it is important to remember that we are not the first to face these moments and we do not need to face them alone.

About Zak

Zak joined the Royal Australian Navy in 2010 straight out of high school. He worked as an Electronic Technician on patrol boats around Australia before becoming an instructor in remote weapon systems.

Zak began working as a Community and Peer Worker with Open Arms in 2019, to support individuals and families find effective solutions for improved mental health and wellbeing through sharing his personal experiences.

About 'Square Away'

When you serve in the ADF, you’re part of a team that always has your back, and that doesn’t change when you leave. But to help others, you need to look after yourself first.

We’re encouraging current and former-serving ADF members and their families to reach out to Open Arms and begin the journey to square away the things that are important to you.

With a 24/7 helpline, online self-help tools, peer to peer support, training programs and more – we’ve got your back.

Find out more: openarms.gov.au/squaredaway