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Reflections on sacrifices made in Afghanistan and at home

The situation unfolding in Afghanistan has had a direct impact not just on veterans of that conflict but on their families, especially for those whose loved ones didn’t return home.

Affiliate member of RSL NSW, Bree Till, lost her husband Brett in Afghanistan in 2009. Drawing on her experiences as a mother, defence spouse, carer and war widow, Bree supports veterans and their families in her role as a Peer with Open Arms, the health assessment and clinical counselling service provider for Australian veterans and their families.

Earlier this year Bree shared her experience of the past 12 years with Nine’s TODAY program for ANZAC Day, including the support, services and respect shown to her by the members of the Woronora River RSL sub-Branch.

Following the withdrawal of US troops and fall of Kabul, and the ensuing barrage of news and commentary, Bree has offered some steadying words that provide an important perspective from someone who has sacrificed so much on account of Australia’s war effort in Afghanistan:

I just wanted to acknowledge the information that has begun, and will likely continue, to come out of Afghanistan, and any feelings or responses that come with that.

For me, in the small snippets of exposure to the news that I’ve had, I’ve seen commentary that stings and holds a moral hurt for the people of Afghanistan, the interpreters, their families, the plight of our community in trying to provide support to get them safely out of the country, now and over the past number of years.

I don’t appreciate my husbands’ death being written off as either senseless or in vain by people that have not experienced the sacrifice of service. I prefer to speak on my own behalf and encourage others to separate personal reactions to those that represent others.

Having said that, personal perspectives that question are human. I believe ‘all the feels’ are welcome and valid and it’s our responsibility to acknowledge them and direct them into the right places.

Do no harm.

I ache with my veteran family. Called to action, you stood side by side and marched towards the danger.

The burden of grief and loss is heavy and the dedication to service, to preserve human life, to providing opportunities for education, health, and a chance at a trajectory at life that was otherwise stifled, will endure.

Twenty years is a long time and it’s human to question the value and worth of that dedication as these events so swiftly play out. Know that 20 years is huge to a young child that was paved a chance into adulthood by your sacrifice.

I will always remember the sacrifices your families, your loved ones, your children made, anticipating your return, and the legacy for those who never came home.

I will always be proud of our community and the work we do as peers and as a mental health service in supporting our wider veteran family to integrate their experiences of service and the burden that is carried by that service.

Open Arms is available if anyone wants a chat, now and always, thanks to its inception by the Vietnam vets who know only too well.

I’ve found counselling more productive than communicating into a void of social media. There’s an element of fatigue when it comes to moral questioning, worth, effort, sacrifice and purpose, especially whilst inundated with oscillating, simplified, and sensationalised views of onlookers.

If it means anything, I value and appreciate all that you have sacrificed in your service, directly and indirectly.

Take care, be gentle.

The Open Arms website provides advice and resources for mental health and wellbeing, or call them on 1800 011 046. For anonymous counselling services call Safe Zone Support. It’s free, entirely confidential and is available to all ADF personnel, veterans and their families. Call 1800 142 072.

Our partner charity, RSL DefenceCare, offers a range of support and services to veterans and their families including assistance with DVA claims, housing and financial support, employment services and more. Visit the RSL DefenceCare website.

Top image: Bree Till with son Ziggy as a baby.

Lower image: Ziggy Till (second from left) with RSL NSW President Ray James (far left) and CEO Jon Black (far right) at the SCG on ANZAC Day 2021 before the Roosters vs St George NRL match.

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