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Sam Cruickshank joined the Army when he was 19
I come from a completely military family. Both my parents were Army, so the influence of the military was strong all through my childhood. It was what was familiar to me and seemed the obvious choice. Although my parents didn’t necessarily want me to join, there was a pull towards serving that wasn’t going to be discouraged by parental concern.
During the 2007 Newcastle floods my dad brought home a Stanley pack with a water pump and spent the week pumping water out of ours and our neighbour’s houses and helping clean up. That observation of service and giving was for me at that time the icon of what it was to serve and be part of something greater, giving to others in need and providing a sense of security and safety.
The Army offered me an opportunity to be part of something bigger, a connection to the historical continuum of the Anzac tradition. Again, it was symbolic of serving and giving from a place of solidarity and mateship.
When asked what Sam’s most vivid memory of his time in the ADF Sam talked of shared experience, shared frustration, and shared celebration.
“They were your friends, the people you drank with, went away with, and worked with, suffered with and who knew you best.
That sharing occurred in so many contexts, away on exercise, at the pub, at PT, at times of sadness, in and out of uniform. Everything felt possible when you had “the best friends you’ll ever have” around you. I suppose that’s what makes the Army the Army, the ability to have a sense of potency and strength when you know you have your mates with you, it’s a sense of safety and comfort when often there’s uncertainty.”
On returning to life as a civilian Sam explained:
The word “transition” seems so innocuous. Transition is a part of everyone’s military journey at some point creates a sense of inevitability that you will transition.
The struggle I think is the fact that “transition” becomes a euphemism, it disguises the complexity and potential suffering and struggle that goes with the departure from an organisation that you were for whatever period of time, were dedicated to.
You have an almost parental relationship with the military, so when you leave it, you lose a sense of safety that goes with being protected from the world in so many ways, to go on to be exposed to a world that maybe feels really unfamiliar, where there’s a different set of rules, but no one has told you what the rules are.
You move from a place of being guided, told, explicitly informed and find yourself in a world where you are no longer “commanded” – you have to become the “commander”.
I found that a really challenging lesson to learn. I wasn’t expecting to have to make decisions and be in control and determine for myself what I wanted my life to look like. It was unfamiliar to me that I was not just allowed, but expected to be empowered to make decisions and take control, rather than be directed, outside of the military.
The biggest challenge for me was reshaping my life in a way that acknowledged my individuality rather than being committed to the collective; making decisions about my wellbeing that acknowledged my human needs, rather than focussing on functionality for the collective. It was a completely different approach to the way I had been living my life and added to the complexity of transition.
I think another part of the struggle for me leaving the Army was that my identity was bound up in an identity as a soldier. I don’t think of myself as a veteran. We are given the term “veteran” as a descriptor rather than making an empowered choice to include that in our identity.
Part of my journey towards empowerment was deciding what my service meant and how I would choose to describe it.
I think life as someone who was in the Army is ordinary, but ordinary isn’t the same as “average” or “mediocre". I think it’s about a settled contentment.
I am a human being, I laugh, cry, have moments of quiet thought, love my partner, and am loved in return, and I experience joy.
I can lean on the skills that I learned in the Army to achieve things in my life that my civilian peers don’t have. I have a uniqueness that is inherent to me as a person.
These things weren’t always obvious to me, it took a different type of courage to discover my humanity and acknowledge my fragility.
When I reflect on how my life looks and my past, I wouldn’t change it for quids, without those experiences I wonder whether I would have the words I have put here.
Sam is now a Community and Peer Team Leader with the veterans and families counselling service Open Arms