Being discharged from the defence force signified the start of a whole new battle for both Kerry Kelb and Jess Leonard.
Both struggled after they were medically discharged, at a loss professionally and personally.
They fought with feelings of isolation and dealt with mental illnesses.
The pair met through Mates4Mates, and have encouraged and supported each other ever since.
The non-for-profit organisation connects injured, wounded or ill serving and ex-serving military personnel.
Mr Kelb, 43, served about 10 years altogether, in four different units.
He was discharged in 2006, and was based at the 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville in his last unit.
Mrs Leonard, of Legana, was based at a unit in Queensland and served between 2009 and 2014, after joining the defence force straight out of high school.
Mrs Leonard, 25, was medically discharged after mentally collapsing whilst on maternity leave.
She said she had been sexually harassed for four years in the defence force.
“It's harder to be medically discharged...because you don't have a choice in the matter...It was my whole life, it was everything that I dreamed of doing and was doing,” Mrs Leonard said.
“Even though I have so many injuries, I have mental illness and all that, I could still probably cope better than I could getting out."
Whilst caring for her infant son, the accumulated stress compounded and triggered a breakdown.
"I dealt with it for four years, day in, day out with the sexual harassment whilst still serving,” she said.
“Pregnancy and maternity leave is a lot different because you have time to think, in a way, that's what led to a huge breakdown."
In 2011, 82 sexual harassment claims were made to the ADF Values, Behaviour and Resolution Branch, according to the Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force 2012.
The Report on Abuse in Defence, published in November 2014, revealed sexual harassment was the only type of abuse which was experienced by more females than males
Mrs Leonard said although she wouldn’t say sexual harassment is common in the force, she believes it is present to some degree in any unit.
Being posted to a unit “basically” comprised entirely of males worsened the harassment, Mrs Leonard said.
“That made it 10 times harder...It does happen, no matter what anyone says," she said.
"It took me four years of dealing with it before I lost it.”
Mrs Leonard said sexual harassment in the defence force was defined by disciplinarian tactics, with people exerting hierarchical authority and victims being unable to retaliate.
“In your head you're going 'I'm going to kill you', but you just stand there and shut up," Mrs Leonard said.
"I'm very angry, all of the time...it's hard, even on medication."
The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce was established to examine and respond to cases of abuse occurring before April 11, 2011.
It’s terms of reference were recently extended to the end of August.
A Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson said the Department of Defence has taken steps toward cultural reform through the Pathway to Change program.
She said current and former ADF personnel could seek support and advice through the Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Office.
After the birth of her now 3-year-old son, Mrs Leonard thought she was dealing with postnatal depression.
But physicians realised her anxiety and depression could be attributed to her experience with harassment.
Neither Mr Kelb nor Mrs Leonard were deployed overseas, and both claim this has caused people to doubt the legitimacy of their mental illnesses since being discharged.
“There's definitely a stigma attached,” Mrs Leonard said.
“If you haven't gone overseas, how dare you have PTSD or how dare you have mental illness, because there's no reason for it to have it...and it's wrong."
Mr Kelb said he lost friends who deployed, and dealt with his friends changing completely.
“I've seen mates come and go, I've seen mates come from their warzones never the same,” Mr Kelb said.
“Then others come back and couldn't wait to go back over and themselves are never the same."
"They change and they thrive in war – it's an addictive thing," Mrs Leonard said.
Mr Kelb, who resides in Perth, said he faced “enormous” struggles when he returned to Tasmania, after being medically discharged due to seizures which were attributed to a rare genetic disorder.
He struggled to conform to civilian life, and subsequently isolated himself.
"I had no one, I didn't connect with anyone,” Mr Kelb said.
“I just went and lived in the middle of nowhere and never saw anyone, I just fished...hid away from life."
He found it hard to readjust his temperament and mellow out after his medical discharge.
“It's critical, you become over-critical, angry," he said.
He said joining Mates4Mates has been integral to his becoming social again, and he loves exercising with other veterans weekly.
He’s found Mates4Mates has been "brilliant" and said it’s "absolutely unreal, especially with Jess pushing me along".
Mr Kelb and Mrs Leonard agreed that Mates4Mates facilitated their meeting like-minded veterans who understood the nuances of military life.
"You get to really connect on the same page sort of thing, whereas when you get out of the army...you've got no bloody idea [how hard it is]," Mrs Leonard said.
"To me, to open up about sexual harassment is not something I do.
“But when you've got people that are similar all you do is mention sexual harassment and everyone goes, 'I'm with ya, I know, I've seen it happen,'.”
The pair said Mates4Mates was a great avenue for younger veterans to connect, as they tried to encourage a new demographic to embrace RSLs.
"We've got 70- or 80-year-olds doing the gym sessions," Mrs Leonard said.
They said their Mates4Mates branch, which has about 12 members, thrived off the age diversity and were very supportive of one another.
The pair, who both have back injuries, said Mates4Mates had helped redefine their relationships with exercise.
Rather than a compulsory military exercise, it’s now an endorphin-inducing activity which helps relieve stress and anxiety and is shared between friends.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
ADF Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Office: 1800 736 776
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