Cheryl Elston - Lessons learned

Running time
3 min 40 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


The thing that amazed me, there were some hard parts, like being female on a predominantly male, that was tough. And so, the females tended to stay together because 90% were fine and treated us well, but there was 10% that thought they could say what they like to. And so, you tried to ignore and just get your job done.

But saying that, the thing that sticks with me and hindsight's beautiful, the team, considering we had all different types of trades, we'd never work together prior to stepping into the country, but the professionalism of the infantry boys, there was quite a few incidences where things could have got very bad, but their discipline, their trust in their corporals and their sergeants, they listened to them, and they deescalated situations that could have been very, very bad. Looking back on that now, that impressed me. I went off them, and I watched them, and I tried to go from their lead. And that professionalism, I look back on it now, and I go, "Wow. I'm so lucky I worked with those guys”.

The health team, everybody did what they could, and it was frustrating that we couldn't do more. We wanted to do more, but we couldn't. But just the way everybody came together and supported each other. The hardest part, I think, was when we got back, and we all dispersed. And I think that's where the problems started happening for a lot of people because, on some occasions, some of those people were out by themselves with no other people that had been there with them, and we lost touch, and life went on.

So I think it's similar to Vietnam in that case, where everybody came back, got off the plane, and left. Where, you think about World War I and World War II, they had months, potentially, on a ship talking with the people that had lived through the same things, where we essentially got on an aircraft, and within 24 hours later, you were getting hugged by your family, and it was just a move on type of thing. So I think that potentially sent up a lot of people for a lack of support they didn't get. I think we learnt a lot from Cambodia, Somalia, and Rwanda, and I think also, too, and this is my opinion, I think we, at that time, like my dad’s friends that are all Vietnam veterans, that was the time they were finding their voice.

So they'd had their welcome home parade, Vietnam, and the effect Vietnam had on the veterans was now known in society, and I think the lessons they'd learnt from Vietnam, and then, obviously, were relearning from those, like I said, Somalia, Cambodia, and Rwanda, I think they took all of that, and these days we have it better. We don't quite have it right yet. I don't think we ever can have it 100% right, but I think we've come a long way to getting off a plane in Sydney and wave goodbye and get on with it type of thing, so it's good to see that we've learned from that.

Was this page helpful?