Young Veterans: Bridging The Generation Gap

Matilda Dray
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Since 2015, the Sunshine Coast Young Veterans RSL group has provided an opportunity to connect with mates, enjoy a healthy lifestyle and transition back into civilian life surrounded by a supportive community.

“It’s all about comradeship and helping fellow veterans – the core values of being a Defence member,” said Army veteran Jittaret Sukhanthapree (known as Tay) who founded the group. It operates as a Chapter under the auspices of the Sunshine Coast District and both the District and several of its Sub Branches contribute some funding towards the Young Veterans.
The first Young Veterans group was formed in Melbourne in 2013 by three Army veterans – brothers Chris and Scott May and Sven Thompson from Brisbane. Chapters of the group have now sprung up around Australia.Although the Sunshine Coast Young Veterans has a committee, sit down meetings are rare and gatherings are usually held outdoors. They include golf days, stand up paddle boarding, barbecues, camping trips, yoga, meditation, ten pin bowling and four-wheel driving weekends. Although aimed at younger veterans, it welcomes people of all ages and members range from 20 to 70-years-old.Feedback from members has been extremely positive. “I’ve had members who have been stuck at home, not knowing what to do with themselves.
Young Veterans gives them the confidence to get back out into the community, which helps the healing process,” Tay said. Tay served in the Army for 4.5 years and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before discharging in 2008. He struggled integrating back into civilian life. “To be honest, once you’ve served you won’t ever go back to being a civilian like before you join. But it’s how you deal with it afterwards,” Tay said. Young Veterans secretary Jane McFadden said the group focuses on organising low cost, fun, relaxed activities to reach out to people who might need help in a casual, non-threatening way. 

“When I came out of the ADF I didn’t feel like I belonged at an RSL. There were many services I could have accessed if I had known they were available,” Jane said. 
“I’m very passionate about helping people who are struggling financially or emotionally and letting them know they don’t have to do it as tough.

We let them know the RSL is there to help and regularly refer members to advocates, welfare and other services,” Jane said. She said younger veterans are less inclined to reminisce about their service history in the same way as older veterans. They often feel isolated and are excited to connect with others in the Defence community to talk about their current life, including what challenges they are overcoming or what the future holds.
Gerard McFadden runs Play Fitness, a personal training business that helps veteran clients, and sponsored the barbecue at the golf day.The Sunshine Coast Young Veterans RSL group was formed by Army veteran Jittaret Sukhanthapree (known as Tay), left, who is now the president, with help from Jane McFadden, who is now the secretary.

Sunshine Coast Young Veterans representatives also recently met with various members of parliament to discuss veteran programs and how they could access financial support through community grants. The future is looking bright for the group, which hopes to one day become a Sub Branch. “We are encouraging all our members to become associate members with their local Sub Branches. We often hold events at Sub Branches to showcase the RSL facilities and want to collaborate with the RSL as much as we can,” Jane said.

Young Veterans' Beginnings

Young Veterans was established in Melbourne in 2013 by a trio of Army veterans – brothers Chris and Scott May, and Brisbane resident Sven Thompson. Operating under the auspices of Dandenong RSL Sub Branch, they founded the group to encourage veterans under the age of 60 to join the RSL and modernise the organisation.

“We feel responsible for the future of the RSL. We want to contemporise it and be the fresh face of the RSL,” Chris said.

He noticed that many of his peers weren’t joining the organisation due to negative experiences at Sub Branches, and because they weren’t interested in the perceived ‘Three Ps’ of RSL clubs – pints, parmies and pokies. Instead, younger veterans sought healthy, family- friendly outdoor activities that provided the camaraderie and support they missed from the Defence Force.
Young Veterans organises a range of events to suit different interests, including camping and four-wheel drive trips, sailing, fishing, movie nights, yoga, hiking and school visits for ANZAC and Remembrance Day. The group has around 60 core members, with about 10 who attend each event.

The group recognises that many veterans are busy with their career and family, and everyone is encouraged to attend when it suits them. “There is no precursor to join, and people aren’t obliged to be there all the time,” Chris said.

There are now 11 groups across Australia in areas including the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Adelaide, the north and south coasts of New South Wales, and Tamworth.
Young veterans at the northernmost point of the Australian ContinentFounding member of the Young Veterans in Melbourne, Chris May, with Shane (ex-Army) and Kathryn (ex-Navy) at the northernmost point of Australia on Remembrance Day in 2015

“It’s quite humbling to see that people are using it as a way to assist themselves and their community. It’s really inspiring,” Chris said.

Establishing the group has been a rewarding experience for Chris and Scott, who were both nominated for Australia’s Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards in 2017.