ANZAC HONOUR: Ron Lange (pictured centre) during his deployment to East Timor back in 2001.
ANZAC HONOUR: Ron Lange (pictured centre) during his deployment to East Timor back in 2001. Contributed

Bond that will never break

"We're all in our 50s now but we were all 18 together, we were soldiers once.”

WHEN Anzac Day rolls around Ron Lange has one thing on his mind - the blokes he served with in Timor, the men who were at his side in the Malay jungles and the mates who took their lives, crippled by the effects of service.

For some, service is a way of life, a feeling you can't shake or a life you can't give up. For nearly three decades Mr Lange was one of those servicemen.

He spent his formative year's in the Army and when he thought to get out, he didn't know where to turn. He wrestled with life on "civvy-street”, overcame his demons and is now eager to let young service-personnel know that there is life after the Army.

"I joined up at 17 and it was quiet for a lot of that time but you learnt about defending the country, what it meant to you as a person and as a team member,” Mr Lange said.

"I remember my mum was a bit struck with grief to see me go off at that age. I'd always wanted to be a soldier and my dad was a soldier as well.

"I just remember seeing photos he brought home of being out in the bush playing around with a gun and thought 'that'd be fun'.”

His first posting was with the 6th Battalion at Enoggera Barracks where he'd spend the bulk of the '80s.

He became part of a Quick Reaction Force for the RAAF base in Malaysia amid the lingering threat posed by communist terrorists.

When he returned he met his wife, started a family, got out of the Army and moved into Army Reserves work.

"Back then there wasn't much assistance for personnel when I discharged.

"I couldn't really adapt to civilian street, the civilian way of life, so I ended up going back to the regular Army and soldiering full-time.”

Throughout his military career he had postings in Brisbane, Western Australia, Sydney, Townsville, Bathurst, as well as time in the US with their Marines.

But it was East Timor in 2001 with 4 RAR that really altered his life the most.

"I was a platoon sergeant and we were there for six months on the border at a time. We had the Indonesians on the other side of the river trying to provoke some fun and games. That was a big upheaval for the family.

"They didn't see me at all for a lot of the 18 months there. We were basically training up for war.

"It really made me appreciate what we had here in Australia and what we have every day and take for granted.”

He took on a father figure role which had it's impacts.

"You have two family's in the Army... I had my family back in Sydney but at that time my priority was my family of 28 soldiers on the border in a foreign country.

"I remember after about five months I was mentally tired. You slept with your rifle and a soldier would come up and tell you a problem about his wife or girlfriend back home.”

When he returned home he had the choice of Afghanistan or a quieter posting.

"I had the opportunity to take a posting in Western Australia which was nice and quiet. I had to make a decision and put my family first,” he said.

Following in his father and grandfather's footsteps, Ron's son Kurt enlisted in the Army too.

He spent six months in Afghanistan and is now a Captain up in Darwin.

"I can understand why Kurt was excited. But as a parent, I wasn't sure I wanted him to go. But we were pretty wrapped for him and he's done really well.

Having formally separated from the Defence Force in 2011, Ron's now wanting to support other returned personnel.

"What this time of year does to me - I've got some of my diggers on social media and I send them a message just asking 'how are you going?' Just told them I was thinking of them. Because I was like a father to some of them.

"The guys I served with before - we're all in our 50's now but we were all 18 together, we were soldiers once and we lived together in the bush, we watched out for each other and it's a bond you can never break. So Anzac Day is where you do think of those guys.

"Fitting into a way of life like this where it's a free for all is difficult. There's a lot of young veterans struggling with that.

"We're similar to a prison system where they have a routine and they're institutionalised... know what they can and can't do.

"We were trained to fight and take a life if need be. We know that changes but that's the adjustment you've got to make.

"That's where we struggle and where we have the mental issues and that's where we need support.

"We need to let the younger veterans know they're not alone. While they might not want to be a part of a service club or organisation, that's fine, but still come and talk to us.

"I know some want to block it out forever and forget but there is a community here in Stanthorpe of veterans who they can talk to.”

Stanthorpe Border Post

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