‘Every year there was a suicide’: Former Australian soldier speaks up
A former Australian Army soldier recalls seeing "some of the country's youngest, brightest, most ambitious, intelligent, and promising people" take their own lives.
A former soldier recalls that he and other Australian Defense Force Academy trainees were so traumatized by the rigorous training regimen that they began hallucinating and several attempted suicide.
James Geercke, then 18, entered the academy in 2008. He told the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Monday that recruits were often pushed to their breaking points. He described seeing "some of the country's youngest, brightest, most ambitious, intelligent, and promising people" take their own lives.
"We started seeing a lot of self-harm," Geercke told the committee on the first day of public hearings in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales' regional capital.
“It was very, very common. And you start to see everyone’s mental health slowly deteriorate ... every year there was a suicide, at least one,” he added.
Geercke stated that instructors had cautioned recruits that a 1990s research revealed that every student had mild PTSD symptoms at the end of their three-month basic training in Wagga Wagga.
“They explained to us that that happens because when they put us through this intense training it can have similar effects on the brain as taking psychedelic substances such as LSD,” he added.
“When you keep people away with food and sleep deprivation for several days, things happen in your brains, you see and hear things that aren’t there.”
According to the probe, recruits were deliberately encouraged not to reveal their psychiatric difficulties since they may be fired. Instead, they were urged to take care of one another.
Geercke affirmed that the culture of silence extended to a major spinal injury he sustained while exercising in 2010. He claimed he was carrying a 50kg backpack and was in "indescribable pain."
He revealed that his determination to persevere through the discomfort for another four days before collapsing resulted in seven crushed and deformed discs and a level of intense pain that never went away.
According to the chair of the royal commission, Nick Kaldas, Wagga Wagga is home to the army's first recruit training battalion at Kapooka and the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 1 recruit training unit.
“We know that some of the risk factors that contribute to death by suicide in the military community may have their origins during recruitment and training,” he said.
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