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What I wish I’d known: Troy Knight

We caught up with Troy Knight about transitioning out of the Air Force twice, the impact service can have on family and how he’s using his experience to help other veterans.
 

Lighting the fire

I had just finished my apprenticeship as a butcher when the crisis in East Timor kicked off and I was really keen to join the Australian Defence Force. I’d always been interested in the Army thanks to both of my grandfathers. One was in the Army in WWII and the other was a bushman and taught me survival skills. From them, I got the thirst for that experience and for service. That’s where my fire in the belly comes from. 

I applied to be a rifleman in the Army but the recruiters didn’t have a position for me until August 2000. That just felt like too long to wait. I was ready to get started. So when I was approached by a recruiter from the Royal Australian Air Force, it was a great opportunity. I served five years as an Airfield Defence Guard and completed the Royal Australian Regiment’s reconnaissance course, sniper course, military police close personal protection course and Bahasa Indonesian at the school of languages. After multiple deployments to Banda Aceh and Iraq, I was discharged from full-time service in 2005. 

I have no regrets at all about my experience but I just felt done with it. It was time to step away. Maybe I should have attempted selection for special forces, but I don’t really like to second guess my decisions.

I was offered an opportunity to work as a bodyguard in the private sector and the money was too good to turn down. You can earn a fortune doing that kind of work. 

But I definitely missed the camaraderie of the guys I worked with in the Air Force. 
 

Back for a second round

I didn’t expect to return to the Air Force but a new special operations unit, the 4 Squadron Combat Control, was being stood up and I wanted to have a crack at it. Two good people who’d become mentors to me – both Air Commodores – were involved and the timing was good as my private contract had finished and I was still in active reserve.

It was a completely different experience for me the second time around. I had a different level of focus.

I was wholly and solely driven to pass the special forces selection process. Nothing else mattered. I shut down everything and just concentrated on that. It might have been selfish of me in a few respects, but it was the way for me to get through it.

It took just under two years for me to qualify as a combat controller and I deployed multiple times with the Special Operations Task Group to Afghanistan. 

It was a pretty relentless cycle. We’d do three to six months on deployment, then have some time off, then work to get mission-ready again and then deploy again. 
 

No regrets, but a price paid

I don’t have any bad feelings about my time in the Air Force. But it did take a huge toll. My marriage broke down and I have five children with my ex-wife, including two daughters now 19 and 21, who I’m now trying to get to know and be a father to, and they’re trying to get to know me. My ex-wife is an amazing woman – I can’t speak of her highly enough. But I chose military life and service. And that just sends you everywhere. 

It’s hard to explain to people outside of it, but the military can sometimes feel like a mistress – just so hard to walk away from. You want to stay connected and keep coming back to it. 
 

Hard truths

My wife started noticing changes in me around 2012 after my last deployment to Afghanistan. I was drinking heavily, and she could see that things were not right and tried to tell me. But I was stubborn. I was getting told this stuff by the person closest to me and I didn’t listen. 

I saw a clinical psychologist in 2017 who explained to me that I had PTSD but I just said “Nah, I’m alright, it’s all good”. 

It would take me until 2019 to admit to myself that I had mental health problems and was abusing substances to try to deal with them. I fought against that realisation for a good seven years. Friends, family, experts told me – I just wouldn’t believe it. 

After around 12 months of medication and treatment, I was medically discharged in February 2021. I’ve had an incredibly positive transition experience. At the RAAF base in Williamtown, Newcastle I was lucky to have the best medical team looking after me along with a transition officer and civilian guidance officer. I don’t doubt the experiences I hear from other veterans who’ve had really negative transition experiences but it wasn’t like that for me. I can’t say a bad word about the support I had.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I struggle to get out of bed. But that’s on me. 

And the boys from my squadron all keep in touch and we get together when we can. We’ll be mates for life. We met in our late 20s and 30s, and now we’re in our mid 40s so there’s no more partying like we’re in Vegas – those days are over! But the connection is still there. 
 

What I wish I’d known

The issues around mental health just weren’t so well recognised when I started my military career so it’s hard to say even in retrospect that I wish I’d been more aware of that stuff. None of us were. It’s being better handled these days. 

One of the biggest things you don’t really think about when you’re starting out is how physically demanding the job is. It really takes a toll on your body and I’m feeling that now at 44! I couldn’t do it again at this age, that’s for sure. 
 

Giving back

I volunteer in veteran and first-responder support organisations now, including being part of Due South Inc’s transition and wellness programs, being an RSL NSW member, and serving on the RSL NSW Young Veterans Committee, which is working to bridge the gap between generations of veterans. 

It’s not easy. Sometimes you’re up against a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality but in the special forces we work on the principle of ‘continuing excellence’. It’s tough but there’s a great team on board. 

One of the most important things for ex-serving organisations to be is family-friendly. I know first-hand the impact military life can have on your family. I just want to pay it forward now. If I can help one person, then that means so much to me. 

 

For more veteran stories, member recruitment tips and news, sign up for the RSL NSW monthly newsletter. Subscribe now.

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