After serving as a Nasho in Vietnam in 1967/68 Tony Dell went back to work in advertising, only to be diagnosed 40 years later with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS).
“I finally found out why my life had turned south,” he said during a stopover at the Tenterfield Showground for the Lightning Bolt II Invictus Convoy heading to the Invictus Games.
The convoy is a procession of veteran bikers, military, firefighting, ambulance, police and support vehicles travelling through four states to raise awareness for PTS and support the games. This year the biennial convoy is bigger than ever.
Mr Dell spent five years playing Sheffield Shield cricket with the likes of Ian Chappell, and in 2007 played in the International Defence Cricket Challenge in Canberra before going on to be diagnosed with PTS in 2008. In fact he claims to be the only living veteran to have played test cricket and seen combat.
A double knee replacement through Veterans Affairs limited his working life to eight hours a week, which he said was akin to a death sentence for someone with his condition.
“I’d been a workaholic, as a way to cope,” he said.
Idle hours presented an opportunity, however, for him to create more awareness of PTS and possibly help other Vietnam vets who were struggling and didn’t know why, and the initiative just expanded from there.
Patrons include Sir Angus Houston (of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 investigation fame), and former prime minister Tony Abbott backed the effort. The first major conference on the issue was held in 2015, with an awareness campaign launched with a convoy in 2016 and an even bigger conference convened last year.
This year’s convoy is three or four times larger than the previous one, Mr Dell said. The organisation now has ties to similar organisations in the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Denmark and Holland with millions of ‘impacts’ on the network from around the world, all seeking the latest in PTS research and treatment.
Mr Dell hopes to connect with Invictus Games patron Prince Harry in Sydney later this month, and plans to present a flag at the games with up to 500 signatures gathered along the convoy’s route.
Participating in the convoy is former army helicopter pilot Kevin Humphreys, who now flies with the Qld Government rescue helicopter. He was able to catch up with former colleague now Tenterfield resident Bryce Titcume after they served together in 16 Aviation Brigade.
Mr Humphreys said he bridges all three roles promoted by the convoy: veteran, emergency services worker and PTS and mental illness sufferer.
After suffering a breakdown while serving in the army in 2008 and getting to a point where he was contemplating suicide, Mr Humphreys said it took nine months to get back on his feet, and another seven years before he could have a conversation about PTS and mental illness.
He liked the fact that the convoy was tied into the Invictus Games.
“It’s not about the medals, it’s about courage and competition; and to return to be your best whatever your best is,” he said.