There’s no doubt the returned soldiers aboard Spirit of Mateship and Southern Excellence II are the kind of blokes you want around if things went horribly wrong – and for that matter, you want them for the good stuff too – because they are top blokes.
They are Australia’s elite. They are strong, fit. They have trained for this; keeping cool while the going gets tough.
They’ll tell you, the same processes they used to handle a chopper crash, in an intentionally unnamed country, are the very systems they will apply on the yacht in Bass Strait during the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
We civilians, as they refer to us, can only begin to imagine what they have experienced while serving. Some have physical injuries like Spirit of Mateship crewman Craig Hansen. He was shattered from his ankle to his brain when an explosive device ended his near 20-years’ service last year.
Then there are those injuries you might never notice. There’s a hint to it in the hand that’s shaking during today’s press conference, there’s so much behind the brawn and bravado of the soldier. That’s the beauty of the Mates4Mates and Soldier On programs. They help to piece together those with physical and mental fractures.
Ross McIntosh served for 15 years, had various tours overseas, and was medically discharged last year. He doesn’t go into too much detail beyond being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. It is telling though, that this man, who has to be about six foot tall, and at least half that across the shoulders, says he was afraid to leave his own home.
“I became involved with Mates4Mates when they spoke at a (post traumatic stress) meeting I was attending, and got involved with the sailing program from there, and it’s a game changer,” he said. “Before I started sailing, I was afraid to leave my property. But I love the boat, and the crew who volunteer to help us are the most solid blokes you’ll ever meet.
“I haven’t experienced that since I was in service. The guys I get to sail with, the other ex-service men, they become like your brothers again.”
Major General Mick Slater, who is back for his second, describes the Rolex Sydney Hobart as “terrifying”. He’s smiling as he says it, thought it’s too hard to tell if his teeth are gritted as he’s saying it.
He attests to the challenges that lay ahead for the soldiers, but knows they’re made of the right stuff to tackle it head on.
“It’s a personal test, it’s a team test; it’s testing people against themselves and against the environment and against other people – the things we achieve through our training,’’ he said. “Unfortunately we have had a lot of soldiers over the last decade who have been unable to continue their normal military organisations. But there’s great organisations like Mates4Mates and Soldier On. They provide the opportunity for them to get back on their feet through challenging opportunities like the Sydney Hobart.”
The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.
A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before A fleet of 117 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.
By Danielle McKay, RSHYR media