Australian Veteran on PTSD, Trauma, and Grief
Roger Marsh is an Australian Army veteran, who became an author after being medically discharged from the Army. He shares what it was like to be a chaplain in Afghanistan, dealing with casualties, and returning home to a child who was battling an aggressive tumor.
Roger talks about how he felt disconnected from his civilian friends after returning home, and how his books act as a way to break down the civilian/military divide.
Links & Resources
- Roger Marsh's website - find links to his books and more about Roger here
- Roger's book Echoes In The Wind
- Roger Marsh on Instagram
- The Body Keeps The Score (book mentioned in the episode)
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning in to a Drive On Podcast where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a Veteran, Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, or a family member, this podcast we'll share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott Luzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:22 Hey everybody, today, my guest is Roger Marsh. Roger is a bit of a unique guest for this podcast as he is an Australian Army Veteran. I believe that's the first time having a non-US military Veteran on the show, but we're all allies. Roger served alongside the Americans in Afghanistan. And since then, he's struggled with his own battles with PTSD, and I wanted to have him on the show to emphasize that this isn't a uniquely American problem. This is something that affects soldiers from all over the world, all of our allies and also Roger is an author. And we'll talk about how his writing has helped him in his journey along the way. So welcome to the show, Roger; thanks for joining me.
Roger Marsh: Thanks very much, Scott.
Scott DeLuzio: I'm glad we were able to find a time to get together, given the fairly significant time difference between us. For the listeners, it's about five o'clock in the evening where I am and it's around 10 o'clock in the morning, the next day for Roger. So just to give you an idea of how much of a time difference there is between us right now, that's 17 hours or so time difference. But through the power of technology, it feels like I'm sitting right there in Australia with Roger. So this is pretty amazing. So anyway, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Roger Marsh 00:01:40 Yeah, cool. I served in the Australian Army for 13 years. So as a regular Army during most of that time, I actually served as a chaplain. So Australian Army chaplains, a little bit different to US Army, in that we both qualify on weapons and have to maintain weapons currency, and we never got a chaplain's assistant. So in Afghanistan I carried a rifle, because it was the only way they could guarantee my safety and with the green on blue threats that we were facing and going out to patrol bases and so forth, it was good. And it's also, snipers are curious creatures. So I like things that look different and I never wanted to look different in a war zone because I think that's a bad plan. Because if you're walking around with just a pistol or with nothing...we had warnings of a few Chechens getting about that just like shooting things out of curiosity.
Roger Marsh 00:02:50 So, I was glad to hear that. The mental health problems that emerged for me were bizarre for some people, not primarily as a result of Afghanistan. So Australian Army chaplains, part of our role was identifying the fallen. So typically it's a regimental Sergeant Major medical officer and chaplain who have to agree. And obviously sometimes a positive ID is not possible and so on. And so we do some, yeah, you're there, you're part of it. And sometimes some fairly unsavory things get along the way. But the thing that really busted me mentally and which surprised me was when I got home from Afghanistan, I was, I took about a week's leave. And then, because the combat brigade I was part of were very short on chaplaincy resources, I was involved in a truckload of, we call them final cas, which is basically a death notice.
Roger Marsh 00:03:59 and that played havoc with my mental health, it just completely wore me out. And I sort of spent the next year feeling really numb and I didn't really know why. It was bizarre because I'd sat with so many soldiers who I thought, no you've got PTSD, let's link you in with whatever service you need to kind of apply that, trying to get this treated. Because the commanding officer, I had said, look, it's just like any other illness or injury well treated early. Good to go. So I was in a cavalry regiment at the time and there was a really good atmosphere about mental health stuff. There wasn't any great stigma in the regiment, because light armour had been fighting a lot in Iraq and Afghanistan. So it was just an accepted reality; but it took me a long time to actually, kinda come to terms with the fact that I had that until it was really, it wasn't until I was posted to Darwin to a different unit.
Roger Marsh 00:05:17 And I was the area on call as well as on port for my regimen. And, I got asked to go out and speak to a lady who was a wife of a soldier and she was apparently having some, I thought postnatal depression. And I thought I'll just triage this and I'll get her because she rang the on-call chaplain number. So you're like, I'll triage this and try to get better caring. When I arrived, she was in the middle of a full-blown psychosis. She was actually a threat to herself and to her child. And so I picked up the child and just started saying, what a great mom you are. You're such a fantastic mom. Look, you've got such a lovely, healthy baby. And she did. And then the ticking away in the back of my mind, if this woman tries to harm the child, me six foot tall, 200 pound is going to have to put the hood on a five foot, three much smaller woman. This is not going to play well. And then news,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:06:32 No, that will definitely look bad.
Roger Marsh 00:06:35 It's like muscles, but by some happenstance, everything went really well. We got her into an acute, psychiatric unit that specialized, instead of neonatal stuff, her husband was brought back from the Bush. It wasn't too far away, but it was in the middle of the Bush of the Northern territory. So it was still significant. And I came away from that thinking, okay, we kicked goals. We saved lives today. This is good. Two days later, I was a blubbering mess. My wife is going, what's the matter with you? And also I just don't know. And I went and spoke to a head chaplain and I said, look, I don't think I'm doing very well. And he goes, yeah. I was wondering when this was going to come up? What?
Roger Marsh 00:07:48 And he said, look, I needed for you to wait because he said there's, and then he listed off all the things that I'd had to do, whether it was identifying the day door, dealing with really nasty situations with families or dealing with lots of death. That was the bottom line. He said, I knew there were going to be issues, but I didn't want to push it with you. And, and also one of the OCs, the majors from my regimen, she actually virtually the same day said Padre. And I often call us Padre, come for a brew, which is sort of Australian slang for coffee. And she just sat me down and I'm like, Oh, how are you doing, man? How's things? I'm thinking, this is what we're going to talk about. Something to do with her, the subunit that she's going to come on to. And she just sat there kind of like,
Robert Marsh: 00:08:51 How long have you had PTSD? Oh!
Roger Marsh 00:08:57 But I started getting help. And it ended up a bit of a problem because the psychologist said that I had crosses on my collars when, Oh, what's it like to be on the other side of the desk? And I'm like, can I hit you?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:09:24 Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Roger Marsh 00:09:26 Just because somebody is in an open profession, doesn't mean they've got some sort of exemption ticket, right. It'd be taking some pleasure in the fact that I had mental issues. And so that didn't go too well.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:09:43 Well, and the strange thing too is I know there's a lot of psychologists who have their own psychologist to kind of process the traumatic stuff that they have to deal with with their own patients. They need to go and speak to a separate psychologist of their own. And so that's a bizarre response, in my mind anyways,
Roger Marsh 00:10:07 But so within our mental health support systems, we have a free counseling service for all soldiers and Veterans that was actually started by Vietnam Veterans. And the government got on board with it and sponsored it to a great degree. And they've been not too bad, but in this particular location, now we're having some issues. We're having some real problems with them. And like four weeks later, I was part of a brigade mental health forum. And the CO of one of the armored Corps regiments got the boss from this organization. And by the time he was finished, the guy was blubbering and shaking. It's not often that an Army CO will just try and destroy the personality of a civilian, but he did and rightfully so because they were not actually doing their job. So I think I just sort of struck what was unfortunately the case, but this began a journey, mental health wise, that eventually led to me not being able to continue in the Army.
Roger Marsh 00:11:33 Simply because I reached a point where every time I tried to push myself professionally or just mentally, not so much physically, physically I was fine. I just got sick and there's a great book about trauma and other things called The Body Keeps the Score, by a guy called Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. He's an American of Dutch abstraction. And these things all sort of find a way out in your system. It's kind of like, yeah, you can repress memory, you can do something, but it's going to do something to you somewhere in your system. And this got picked up by the medical staff where I was posted and said, look, you're getting sick every time you are on call, you're getting sick. Every time you push yourself, this is a problem; we can't continue. And so that began the process of me being medically discharged.
Roger Marsh 00:12:38 Simply it was a realization that I couldn't keep doing the job because my medical fitness was not sufficient. That is my personal mental health journey through the Army. And so I was medically discharged and writing was emerging concurrent with this. I started writing for two reasons. One was to get the poison out of the system because otherwise <inaudible> and I thought if I can, what it does is it makes you distill the essence of experience from the fog of war. Because when you go through a war zone, when you go through a nasty, nasty event, it's like all this experience just crowds in on you. And you just don't have time to process it. You have to kick it somewhere and go put that in the later pile and I'll deal with it some other time.
Roger Marsh 00:13:50 So, and that often has mental health effects just by itself. But, the second part of it that made me want to write was the realization, it was particularly just after I came back from Afghanistan, a little awkward moments, funny overt moments. I hadn't been back a week and I go to church, I'm drinking a can of Coke, and I don't know what the US is like, but generally, within a lot of Australian churches, you have at least one at resident health Nazi, who wants to tell you that everything that you're doing is going to kill you, having just come back from a war zone where death is a problem, and I'm drinking a can of Coke. And she just starts to lecture me on how this is going to kill me. Oh, I just snapped, Oh, wait, you will die. And I'm thinking, Oh, that's possibly coming out like a death threat.
Roger Marsh 00:14:59 And her husband is sort of like grabbing her, like, no, no, you need to get away. But then the thing that I realized is that, and through another couple of conversations, when I was, again, it was another lunch after church it was when I was posted to the Australian Army's equivalent of Parris Island; so a basic training center for soldiers, we just maintain the one somebody asked me, Oh, what were you doing this week? And I said, Oh, I was down at the high wire confidence course a lot because there were some people having some struggles, just overcoming the fear and she asked me why do you put these people through a highwire confidence course? Well, it's to familiarize them with the physical sensation of fear so that when they encounter it in a high stress situation, like a battlefield, then they know what it is. And they're able to make decisions under pressure or fear. And she just looked at me and said, why would you want to do that to people? I'm like, you really don't get this do you.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:16:18 That seems like a typical civilian response to this. Why would you be so mean and force them to do these scary things? Obviously, like you want them to experience the stress before the bullets are flying in, that's the stress.
Roger Marsh 00:16:41 And that's a far more existential stress.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:16:45 Yes, exactly.
Roger Marsh 00:16:47 I always thought there's a culture gap. This made me realize it was a huge culture gap. We get thrown into the Army, but you know, I've been in the military most of my working life. And it was second nature to me. I had a military father who was a Korean War Veteran. He was quite old when I was born, relatively speaking, he was 41. And so military stuff was innate to me. I didn't really realize that. But it was innate. And I realized that after about five years in the military, the people I went to university or college with did not understand me at all. And that’s a big part of the threats that we face in Australia, long social isolation after discharge is a big problem. And so from my deployment in Afghanistan, which is MTF1, mentoring task force one, I wasn't there the whole time. I was part of the Rocker Relief push. So this was pushing people into the theater so critical staff could take leave. So that mid deployment kind of break, another thing that we did. And so I'll just fly all around the place with that.
Roger Marsh 00:18:30 I just found that with that task force,if you talk to soldiers, I go, Oh, far out MTF when you guys got smacked and it was 2010, it was Afghanistan. It was very kinetic. But the sad fact of the matter is more guys from that deployment have died of suicide than we lost in combat. So social isolation has had a bigger effect and other things attached to it have been more deadly than the Taliban. And so what I did with Echos in the Wind is I tried to write a novel that would give people a window into what military life is like. And I set it at a fictitious basic training center to give people an idea of what we have to do and why. And so answering questions like, Oh, another crazy church incident was like, why are you Army people so aggressive? And I was thinking, do I really want to give this person an honest answer? Yes, I'll go for an honest answer. And I said, because, and it's mostly visceral, we are training people to stick a piece of steel on another human being in order to kill them. That requires aggression, knowing that would end that conversation fairly efficiently, which was probably the goal. Well, my goal was to please make this stop.
Roger Marsh 00:20:13 It wasn't just church situations, social situations. And again, I just ended up feeling like this social hand grenade. And I wrote a poem to that effect of a Veteran becoming like a living ghost. You're like a living reminder of all these things that civilians don't want to think about, about death, about suffering. I put out the fact that their gummy bears and unicorns' view of the universe is not real. And that becomes another factor in it because people don't want to talk to you. And then when my son Jonathan got sick, my youngest son died of brain cancer in March of last year. And as I was getting in the process of getting medically discharged from the Army, he got diagnosed and started treatment. We got some good months with him over the sort of 14, 15 months that he had post-diagnosis. It was a very aggressive tumor. So glioblastoma is very, very dangerous, and if he had survived, he would have been the world’s first. So to watch him die, that added another layer to the living ghost thing where you're just, Oh, he's not only a crazy PTSD person, that he is also a parent who's lost a child. So there's a double reminder of things people didn't want to think about.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:21:59 Well, right. And in that case, there are those people who have no military experience and haven't lost a child themselves now have two things that they don't have in common with you to be able to, I don't want to say commiserate, but to be able to relate to your point of view and your perspective in life. Whereas, had your son made a recovery and you not been a combat Veteran or gone into the military at all, then you would have a lot more in common with those people, but your experience is going through all of that and it has definitely shaped you in a different way. I think your experiences with dealing with civilians, I think you said, perhaps this is an Australian thing, but I definitely don't think that it is an Australian thing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:22:57 I think this is a fairly universal thing. Obviously, I haven't spoken to people from all over Europe or other countries that we're allies with or whatever, but I can definitely tell here in the United States, that's a very common thing. I did a poll in a Facebook group for Veterans a few months ago, and I wanted to see what is one of the most common things that you're struggling with after getting out of the military or coming back from a deployment or whatever the case may be. And the absolute number one thing that people responded with was dealing with civilians and relating to civilians. Basically any civilian interaction that they're having was just an absolute nightmare for them. Then add on top of that losing a child is, I mean, having three young children myself and thankfully they're very healthy children, I can't begin to imagine what that's like. I could imagine it being absolute hell and that's not from my own personal experience. It's just what I would imagine it being. But that has to be a trauma that just doesn't go away, especially not now it's only a little over a year later, that's something that is a very hard thing to deal with.
Roger Marsh 00:24:26 It was pretty awful and at the time when he was particularly ill when he was dying, we were fortunate to have in our circle of people, two elderly Dutchmen, who both lived through the battle of Arnhem as children. So we know a circle of people who had a pretty realistic outlook, but as you mentioned, a sort of military civilian divide, another friend, who's a German Army Veteran of Afghanistan, and he died, found it possibly even worse simply because of the conflicted history that Germans have with their military. A certain percentage of the German people don’t want to think about the military period or a certain percentage of the German population don’t. Whereas, he was quite patriotic and had quite a level, well-rounded sense and wanted to serve his country and he came back and thought, wow, the isolation's probably even worse for them. But yeah, Brit friends are similar, you are from a different culture and it's sometimes easier to relate to a soldier who doesn't even speak English as a first language.
Roger Marsh 00:26:10 It changed us as a family, the military, the good things that float out of war was actually, as Jonathan was dying, I asked him are you afraid? And yeah, we talked about matters of faith and so forth, which were quite important to him, but he said, look Dad on you, every time you put on a particular uniform, somebody has died. And so I knew I had to think about it, and all of my kids are in that sort of category. They've gone into desperate reality. And it can happen because the deaths I dealt with in the Army probably about half of them were combat deaths, but there were two suicides, a couple of motorbike accidents randomly. When I was in the second 40th light force, where you had a guy die of a brain hemorrhage, a really fit fellow only in his thirties, lying in his bunk, dead.
Roger Marsh 00:27:21 And so this was a present reality that they were kind of seeing, and it led to quite a maturity and an outlook on their part. We certainly saw that in Jonathan's life and his death, but also, and I think also military humor kind of penetrated into the family because as he was dying was when the whole COVID issue was becoming far more problematic in Australia's thinking. So the nurses, the way that health system worked here helped us set up a palliative care ward at home and nurses were coming every day to just check on meds and all that sort of thing. Because it was a charitable nursing service that did that. And his favorite nurse turned up and she was wearing a face mask and Jonathan who's got brain cancer and he's dying. He'll ask, what's the mask?'' And she said, it's in case we're thinking, she said, it's in case you get sick. I think she realizes at all, but Jonathan is cracking himself laughing. It's just like God said, she's like, this isn't funny. Well, military humor has permeated through the entire house.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:03 I mean, a little bit of that dark humor, I think helps to get you through those difficult situations. Especially being in the military when you're dealing with uncertain situations where you don't know, is this going to be a dangerous patrol or whatever, you crack some light hearted jokes and
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:28 it puts everyone at ease a little bit more. And so I think that that was probably, you may not have even realized it at the time, but that's probably a great gift that you could have given to your son at that time, because it allowed him to see the humor in that situation instead of maybe panicking and breaking down and whatever. So, it's probably a very, very good thing.
Roger Marsh 00:29:53 Black humor is probably one of the best mental health mind maintainers I know. I did a ramp ceremony in Afghanistan. As chaplain, you've got your hat off for that. And so I was a pasty white boy. I was covering myself in sunscreen and this soldier from my regimen came up to me and he put on this quiet camp persona and said, ``You basically become a makeup artist.” I was catching myself laughing as he's going, “Oh no, that's not really going to do what we need to do. Like you're off the plates, like stop it.”
Roger Marsh 00:30:37 And as we walk out in front of this vehicle, which is the gun carriage and carrying the casket, we're ready to step off and I'm slow marching in front of this thing. And I knew the crew of this vehicle really, really well when the crew commander leaned out of the hatch and said “Hey, Padre, how much would you pay me not to run you over?” It was one of those moments. Like I feel human again. I actually felt human instead of having to go through it like a machine, like a really pretty awful process as we say farewell to a dead soldier, just those little bits. And the guy who had died himself, I didn't know him, he was from a different unit, but apparently he would have loved it. So yeah, Dark humor is a great force multiplier.
Roger Marsh 00:31:51 So Echoes in the Wind, the first in a series of four novels. And it takes people from looking at a basic training center to looking at war, to looking at a kind of boggle, ordinary regimental life to looking at life after the military. So that's the progression over four novels that I've nearly finished. The second one was because it was written concurrently with me struggling with mental health and with Jonathan's illness and death. It's really not been an easy time. They're very hard to get through. It's kind of like I've been forging a sword continuously.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:32:33 Completely understandable too. You know, that would be much more difficult.
Roger Marsh 00:32:40 Yeah. It affects all sorts of things. One of my editors, when I think I detect a couple of promo screams of rage in here, which is fine, it's fine. But you may need to think about this particular part of the narrative, so it needed a lot of work, but the thing that I've found really good though is as I've written it, I've gone, “Wow. This is something that has helped me to really process my own experience in fairly fine detail.” The mental health effects for good that I've seen have been quite strong in that I've got far more insight and I've processed far more of all the stuff that I just had to chuck in the corner and leave because I just didn't have the capability to deal with it at the time.
Roger Marsh 00:33:47 Because it was too busy, you're just run over by life. And I've had a few Americans read Echoes in the Wind and I thought, it'll have a British feel to most people, but it is different. My main point of view character, isn't actually Australian by birth. There's lots of reasons for that. Probably the main difference that the average American would notice, I know I had an American chaplain come up to me in Afghanistan. He was white with fright, what's up? He's like, you're guys swears so much, listen to them. What they're doing is they're using the F-bomb as vocalized punctuation.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:34:58 That's exactly what it is. Yeah. Yeah.
Roger Marsh 00:35:00 And he's like, Oh, okay. He was just in shock at the language of my soldiers. And he went on. You're right. They're not actually trying to be in any way obscene. They're just filling in stuff. I'm like, yeah, that's it exactly. Americans notice that about the Australian Army is it's pretty fruity in its language.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:35:31 You know, I think one of the things that's kind of funny there is, so having served in the American Army, I know that the language is pretty much on par to what you're talking about there. But we do try to tone it down around the chaplains. We try to keep that a little bit more to a minimum around them. So,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:36:01 they're probably not as used to hearing that type of language from the other soldiers.
Roger Marsh 00:36:07 That's probably the case, but yeah, around us, it's kinda like, it's almost to test chaplains coming. What can we do to wind him up, do something to try and upset them or otherwise mess with their head. And if you pass that test, then ah, it's all good. You know, it's funny. I thought at the time it was more sort of, I think the craft of chaplaincy is quite different in the Australian Army because you're just dealing with all comers and you have to be very respectful and careful. So a preachy kind of overbearing chaplain would not get very far.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:37:06 Understood. Yeah.
Roger Marsh 00:37:09 Yeah. But I think they get very far anyway.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:37:12 Well, that could be true as well. So you talked about how, in writing your book, you were writing it as a way to give people a window into your world and kind of break down that divide between civilian and military. How do you think that that's worked out? Did you find that some of your pre-Army friends and colleagues have come to a better understanding of who you are today or have you seen any sort of difference in that?
Roger Marsh 00:37:42 Yeah, I have, it even freaked out my wife a bit. Now she comes to me, a British military family that was military, possibly going back to the 1750s. So there's long-term involvement with the British Army. She never served herself, but even she was like, shit, this is really what a day in the life. Is this how people speak to each other? Is this how people are like, yeah, this is. I've actually toned the language down a bit, but not much. Simply so people could actually get what people say and it would actually ring true. And she was just astounded on one level, but it's also done two things. One, it started the conversation with the people who I know who haven't served; two, it's given them an idea, particularly Echoes In The Wind, because it is set in the basic training center, it gives people an idea of why people are taught to do the things they do. And also an understanding of why Army people don't mince about and hesitate when there's a threat, they take action. And that's sometimes a shock. I learned that a lot of civilian people are shocked by somebody going bang okay, we need to do this, this, this, and go out with the general medic’s knife hands and just kinda tell people how it's going to be. We're like, isn't this obviously what needs to happen?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:39:51 That was even a shock here to a lot of civilians. Back a few years ago, there was the Boston marathon bombing that took place. And there were a number of soldiers who were participating in the marathon. And after the bombs went off, all the civilians were running away from the bombs, but the soldiers were running towards it and they knew there were people there who needed help. They had medical training, combat medical training to stop the bleeding at least, and try to help as many people as they can. And they just went and did it, they didn't stop and think, Jesus, there could be other bombs here. It's like, no, there's people here. They need help. Let's go give them the help that they need. And so you're right there, they're very decisive and they're just going to go and do the job that they need to do.
Roger Marsh 00:40:38 Yeah. I think people reading the books have certainly been able to get an appreciation of the forces that influence a military person's personality. And even the quiet ones, probably especially the quiet ones who are quiet. And then all of a sudden they do something and they're like, Whoa, where did that come from? So it's because they need to have a capacity for instantaneous action, not hesitation. There's no time for just sort of stroking your beard and going, “Oh, I wonder whether I should do this or not.” It's like, if there's an urgent threat, they'll respond straight away. I've got some interesting reactions to the female character, because I have a very strong female character in the book, which intrigued me because a lot of women did not like her.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:41:42 Hm.
Roger Marsh 00:41:44 Whereas that was not what I was expecting. Whereas I was just kinda like, this is the normal, competent Army officer who just doesn't take crap and the people are really saying, like, “Oh wow. She's so over the top, I can show you over the top.” That's not her. So yeah. I think it's been broadly successful in that, but for some people it's hard for them to get past the reality that a military exists to destroy, to kill people and destroy this stuff. And if you can't get past that mental block, then incomprehension is not going to be there. I think probably the people who've read it are the ones who are on that line. I just can't get past this. I didn't find it confronting, I suppose, but I was having a discussion with somebody who really was quite curious about the military. She really wanted to know, and she's like, what sort of pressures does a combat soldier live under?
Roger Marsh 00:43:29 And I went, okay, this is not going to be nice. Okay. Right off, this will not be a nice story. And she went, yeah. Okay. Okay. I spoke to a soldier I know in Afghanistan, it was a sniper shot at a 12 year old boy, through the neck in order to prevent him detonating the suicide blast that he was near., And she's like, Oh, why did you shoot him through the neck? It was to stop the percussion of the bullet strike, detonating the vest that he was too close to non-combatants. And if he'd been standing in the middle of a group of Taliban, you probably would've gone to the vest, just to take out more than one.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:44:28 Right.
Roger Marsh 00:44:32 And she’s like, he shot a child. Yeah. But he saved the lives of 50 to a hundred people with one shot. And I think then she began to comprehend that the decisions that military people have to make are not nice options. On the one hand, there's good options, but there's no nice option.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:45:08 Those are options. Not necessarily that it's a good option shooting a child was never a good thing, but there are better options to prevent the 50 to a hundred people from getting killed.
Roger Marsh 00:45:20 Yeah. So he actually had an interest in going to talk to you. You had a decision-making access that he drew, he had good, bad, right, wrong on the axis. And he said, sometimes doing the right thing means that I'll do something that is bad in order to preserve what good is there. And that's how he kind of frames that particular incident, that sort of thing, which intrudes into the first novel, like that kind of level of decision-making.
Roger Marsh 00:46:09 Once the civilian person is able to comprehend that this is a necessary element of decision-making that soldiers have to face. It's not a, “Oh, they're finally facing that because they are intellectually lazy or that they're not really thinking things through now.” No, it's just a reality that they can see. And what happens then is I've noticed when people do get that, they start to actually look at the world very differently and you know what? We live in this country where we're very sheltered and we can have our gummy bears and unicorns worldview, and it doesn't get destroyed. But as soon as those gummy bears and unicorns, worldview meets the harsh reality of the world, it just evaporates. And yeah, that's a decision point I think for people is once they come to that realization as, are they just going to pull the blanket up over their head and try and pretend that that's not real, or are they going to go, “well, you know what, this is something I need to actually think about. Because as the illness of my son showed, it's not just combat that kills people, right. Disease. It's not those sorts of things. It will be the sole influencer of your mental health.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:47:45 And a lot of people go through life thinking that, “Oh, all these bad things, they just happen to somebody else, that's somebody else's thing.” They don't live in the reality that something bad could happen to their children or that, it could be a car accident, or it could be an illness as was the case with your family, like bad things do happen. And if you're not mentally prepared for it, which I think a lot of us are guilty of, that is just not being prepared for that. It's gonna come back and bite you and it's going to bite hard.
Roger Marsh 00:48:26 Yeah. Yep. I occasionally get people, when Jonathan was ill, who say you had to follow this particular prayer program, or you need to follow this particular diet or treatment program. And I'd say a big medical pharmacy has got an interest in keeping people sick. And I went, okay, well, big health food companies have also got an interest in making people paranoid about big pharmacy. So I see profit intruding from both directions here, people. You kind of Skyped death, as one American preacher I heard years ago put it, who said, guess what, if you get a miraculous healing, you get to grow old, get sick and die like the rest of us. I went, wow, a massive belly laugh but reality, this is good. But a lot of people both inside and outside any church or faith or whatever sort of circles, kind of have this, “if only you change X, Y, and Z, then you wouldn't get these diseases.”
Roger Marsh 00:49:49 Ah, because I asked when Jonathan had his tumor biopsied, they sent part of it to Germany because there's medical researchers over there who are trying to map the genetics of these things, because they don't know anything about it. My older sister's a medical specialist and I asked her what causes it. And my wife was worried it was the headphones or something that he used to wear and she went, “no, that's not it.” Wireless headphones in fact have less electromagnetic radiation than hardwired ones. But even so it's not sufficient. It's not the causative thing for this kind of thing, what is, I don't know. And for a lot of people accepting, I don't know that it's out of my control, that's like a massive moment.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:50:48 Oh it is absolutely. My wife, a couple of years ago, unexpectedly started having seizures and she had never had them before in her life. And after a two week stay in the hospital, of which a good portion of it, she was in a medically induced coma. The doctors had no real answer for what caused it and why it happened. No preventative actions is just like, go back home and go about your life the way you always have, because there's nothing that you can change really to prevent this from happening in the future. Something obviously happened, but they don't know exactly what so I know what you're talking about.
Roger Marsh 00:51:32 Yep. Neurological stuff is just so complex. We were fortunate in that the palliative care doctors or the head palliative care doctor at the hospital, that was seeing Jonathan's treatment with somebody we had known from university and he's just like, we got nothing. We don't know. We don't know how this happens. We don't know how it will progress. We can say what's typical because it's such an unusual cancer. They don't really have a lot to go on. I guess I came back to military training really, which is to say that my worldview is that I live in a world that I don't control and sweating about the stuff that I don't control is going to screw my head real quick. And so for what I need to do, what can I do? I can love my family. I can cook dinner. I can make the beds. I can give people a cuddle, you know, when they are sad in this whole set of circumstances and similarly in a war zone one of the interesting things was when I was in Afghanistan and I was flying on a 101st Airborne Black Hawk simply because it was just like, I felt like we needed Creedence Clearwater Revival crankin’.
Scott DeLuzio: “More than a Feeling.”
Roger Marsh 00:53:19 The Australian Army is very particular about its helicopters and so they maintain the noise proof lining and all that sort of thing. Whereas these things were just, they don't have noise proof lining or they're just slide windows, perspex removed. This was a flying truck. And we took off and they were flying very high, going really quick. And after the initial “Holy crap”, it was like, “Hey, this is kind of cool.” And then I was like not realizing yet this in a war zone. I'm in a helicopter that will probably be shot at, as we go up this particular Valley. I can't control anything about this. So I might as well just enjoy this moment now, rather than the ride getting a little bit exciting as there was one combat outpost we came into that was rocketed or had something done to it every day. The infantry who were there were maniacs in they would just laugh when an RPG hit the HESCO or play a game called rocket a clock. We divide the patrol base or something into grid squares and if the rocket hits your grid square, you collect the cash.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:54:54 So that's a fun way to do it.
Roger Marsh 00:54:59 Yeah. That was apparently quite popular in Kandahar I learned. But it was done elsewhere when there were a lot of rockets. And as we were coming in, the Black Hawks sensors must've picked up something it didn't like, because flares started going and I could see the guys in the door guns getting excited. I ended up not firing anything. And I was like, yeah, well, here I am in the middle of an incredibly unpredictable country. And that ability to just not sweat things you can't control is going to save your sanity. Whereas there was an Australian politician who, I won't name who I hosted somewhat toward the end of my stay in Afghanistan and he never left the MOB. Multinational Operating Base. But the whole time he was sweating bullets expecting some 107 rockets to come screaming and land on his head and you can't control that. So you just have to accept the fact that this is a place where you don't control much.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:56:19 If it's your time, it's your time. That's a conclusion you have to come to at that point.
Roger Marsh 00:56:25 It's often a problem in basic training. I think that I noted as I was posted to basic training centers twice that the big mental adjustment for a lot of people is getting used to a world where they're told what to do and they don't control what's happening and not all of them make that adjustment. And we'd worked pretty hard to get rid of them and make it easy for them to leave because the military life isn't for everyone. But it was interesting once I started to just look at the world a bit differently that made it a lot easier for them.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:57:10 Yeah. I wanna switch gears just a little bit. I follow you on Instagram and I've seen several posts of yours where you talk about archery and shooting trips. I practiced archery when I was younger. And, I found that when I was doing it, it had almost like a relaxing quality to it. How has that helped you along the way and your journey or has it? Has that been a conscious component?
Roger Marsh 00:57:38 Yeah, I was a rifle shooter and a hunter for many years, a lot of my life from when I was relatively young, but I found with the PTSD that I wasn't enjoying rifle shooting as much; I just didn't like the noise, it was annoying. And it took me 10 minutes before I could get the jumps and jitters out of the system. And I ended up selling all my firearms and getting three bows instead, because archery has all of the same things that I feel that I loved about rifle shooting. It forces you to clear your mind, and there's a lot of precision to it, but there's also some extra elements that rifle shooting doesn't have. It's got a very mindful, almost Tai-Chi like movement to it. If I'm having problems with anxiety, or if I've got writer's block, if I go out and shoot the bow for half an hour or an hour, it usually just goes away because it requires so much concentration that I can't stew in my own juices. I can't allow the anxiety to just keep winding up. And it gives you something to kind of, let's say it's a grounding exercise really.
Scott DeLuzio: Right.
Roger Marsh: So I've found it a huge benefit really and an old injury from the Army caused me to not be able to shoot the bow for like 60 days. I was like, yeah, I can see that.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:59:39 You know, I see that in your posts too, the way you talk about it and how, from my experience, how focused you have to be on that activity in order to do it and do it well. All the components that go into drawing back and the aim and even down to your breathing and things like that, that go into it and then the, the release and the follow through to let the arrow fly, you know, all of that, if you, if you're focusing on it and not just doing it in a mechanical format and just shooting just a shoot, which I can see with a rifle or pistol shooting doing that where you can just pull the trigger and it's going to do the work for you.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:00:29 You could very easily get into that habit of just shooting just for the sake of shooting, but if you're doing it for the grounding purpose, like you were talking about, to just center your attention on that and let the anxiety or whatever you had going on in your mind, whether writer's block or anything else. I could see how it just would fade away with that intense focus that you have.
Roger Marsh 01:01:00 Particularly with writing some parts of the second novel, which is called A Wind of Bitter Tears. I just had to revisit some things that I really had been hiding from, and I'd write a passage, I'd be writing for about an hour and I'd be cooked. So I'd go outside with a bow. But often, like the first 10, 20 shots were just horrendous and then due to just kind of the regularity of the thing started to get rid of that. And then by the time I'd shot the last 30 or so inside of a string of a hundred, everything was singing. It was going really well. But yeah, it could really depend on what the cause is. But yeah, I think after Jonathan died, I shot the bow for like three hours solid. Once everything was taken care of and when my family was safe and we were around each other, I just said to my wife, I'm going to go down to shoot the bow. Anybody can join me and what have you, but I'm just going to shoot until my fingers drop off. And yeah, that was a good afternoon.
Roger Marsh 01:02:38 One of my other sons was often mistaken for Jonathan, often mistaken for twins. They were very close and it really ripped him apart with what happened. And there was a lot of spite that went into that shooting, but there wasn't a lot of accuracy. It was pretty ragged. It was pretty ragged often, but it was certainly very helpful. What a 2020, what a year!
Scott DeLuzio: 01:03:08 Yeah, it was a bad year for quite a few people around the world, but I can't imagine adding the loss that your family has had on top of that. That was at the start of it all too. So it's not like it really got much better for you after that.
Roger Marsh 01:03:27 It was grim for a bit but again, I'm very thankful for a lot of things. One for Johnson’s own robustness, and fights on hope and laughter and everything else that came with him. But also just as I look back to my upbringing, my father was born pre-antibiotics. And when things like polio pandemics would kill people on a scale that COVID has not managed, when life was very uncertain. And I think I learned a lot of lessons from him, a Korean War Veteran that permeated the rest of my life in ways that I wasn't aware of until I was older. Like those mental reflexes you have from your deep past but they certainly come to the for under strengths and they did, and I was very thankful for that. Our realistic upbringing, not a, “if you do everything right, your life will be nice.” No,
Scott DeLuzio: 01:04:42 Not a fairy tale upbringing, a grounded realistic one.
Roger Marsh 01:04:48 Yeah, yeah. Yep. So, yeah, dad often used to say, no good deed goes unpunished; it’s pretty cynical.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:04:55 Yeah. I've heard that one too.
Roger Marsh 01:04:58 Yeah. Yeah. A few people are saying you're so cynical, just realistic. I've had to help my own children at times with their expectation that everything will turn to crap at a moment's notice, which on the one hand is true. It can happen. Okay. But yeah, I had to learn earlier than I would have wished probably to balance that with a different sort of outlook. When I found out my youngest daughter, who is a ten-year old, fell over at school and broke her arm. And when she was at the doc, she said, Oh, well, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And the doctor's like, is your father in the military?
Scott DeLuzio: 01:06:08 Yes,
Roger Marsh 01:06:10 I can tell it's just this expectation. Okay. I'm going to plan for things going well, I'm going to work towards things going well, but I'm also going to be ready when things go flying into the fan.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:06:26 Yeah. And I think some people will see that attitude as maybe not the best attitude to have, like why are you thinking of things going bad, but at the same time, if you're prepared for it, you're going to make the best of that bad situation. So I think that's a healthy attitude to have, in my opinion.
Roger Marsh 01:06:48 Yeah. Oh, certainly. I think military service, how it creates this bond across different cultures, because the ground note beneath everything that we do is chaos. We are trying to face a chaotic and unpredictable set of circumstances. We're trying to inflict chaos, but also to receive it, respond to it and counter attack it. And that requires a particular set of mental pre-commitments and if you haven't made them, and I sometimes look at young soldiers in basic training with concern is like, “Oh, you still really haven't gotten how nasty this can be.” I'll keep an eye on you. Probably the ones that I saw were combat engineers and they did EOD work. Those guys fighting a war on the cusp of sudden obliteration with finding bombs, diffusing bombs, and working closely with, particularly in <inaudible>, we had a lot of American EOD teams, I had some really neat flyaway gear, bots and so forth. I just watched them get together as a group of people and eat lunch. And I remember somebody saying to me, “Oh they're developing a fairly skewed view of life.” Not really, are they? They know once they step back into civilian life in Australia, that the threat matrix changes.
Scott DeLuzio: Significantly.
Roger Marsh 01:08:53 But you know, with the way terrorism has just sort of, intruded into every country's thinking, I think some people have started to wake up to, and with COVID waking up to this is not as comfortable or nice as I thought it was going to be. Whereas the average Veteran is like, okay.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:09:28 My life hasn’t changed all that much.
Roger Marsh 01:09:31 Again, the Australian government was in the week that Jonathan died, it went from, you could have a hundred people at a funeral to you could have 40 people at a funeral to you could have 10 people at a funeral?
Scott DeLuzio: Wow
Roger Marsh: Which meant I had to tape his funeral, which sucked. But at the very beginning of that week, I thought I watched the way things were going. I went, if I apply the military, the Army matrix, all continually shifting goalposts and chaos to this, I need to be prepared to tape the funeral if that needs to happen. And so I ended up with an order of service readings and prayers and I couldn't manage a sermon; I just couldn't do that, but things that represented his life and I did that, I saved it on my computer and just got ready for what was coming next. And so when it did come down to me having to tape his funeral, it was like, “Oh, okay, print this out, lemonade it, I was ready. And whereas a lot of people were like, “Oh,everything's changing. The goalposts are shifting.” And I went, this was my career. You know, you get told to muster at 6:00 AM and pretty sure everybody's going to be there at three.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:11:10 So that's the same in the Australian military as well.
Roger Marsh 01:11:14 I was fortunate in that most of the time I was in regimental headquarters. So I knew what time you really had to be there and I'd say in conversations between the regimental Sergeant Major to spare somebody.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:11:38 Well, Roger, it's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today and learning about your journey, your time overseas and everything that you've gone through since returning back. It's really been eye opening and I think the listeners here are gonna really appreciate your openness and willingness to share your side of the story and also to understand a little bit more about the kind of universal nature of this mental health battle that we all face. I would like to give you a minute here to let people know where they can go to find your books and to follow you, to find out more about your journey and everything that you're up to.
Roger Marsh 01:12:30 Yup. So you can find my books in the usual online sellers. I am in consultation with a tech savvy son developing the facility to sell them from my site, but for Americans, it's available through Amazon.com and other details of which are on my website. So I'm Roger Marsh, an author in the Instagram world. And if you go to my profile page, there's a link to my website, <inaudible>.com. And the links are there for where you can get the book and the second novel is coming out soon, which will be called A Wind of Bitter Tears. First one's Echoes in the Wind. And it will be followed by two more, which are The Devil in the Downdraft and Angel of Wrath, which is the last in that series. So based on a series of four that explores life as a window into the military world. So you can kind of pick something up. And even though if you're an American, it's different to the US military, the customs language is different. There's an awful lot. That's the same crisis of Indigo.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:13:58 Yeah. Yeah. From what you've mentioned, it seems like there's an awful lot that is the same. And I'm sure there's some cultural and language differences that are there, but I think that the core essence of what you're trying to get at is the military culture. And I think that that largely is going to be very similar to an American or Australian audience that's reading the book.
Roger Marsh: So even the German guy I've interacted with has said, there is so much that's similar for sure.
Scott DeLuzio: So I will have links to all of this, your social media and your website and the Amazon link. So anyone who's looking to get the book and find out a little bit more about life in the Australian military, please go pick that book up.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:14:52 And if you do, leave a review on the book, that certainly does help, definitely helps authors out with the way the algorithms rank the books in the whole scheme of things. It is a bit of a mystery, there's a black box there, and you don't know exactly what happens when all that input goes in there, but I do know that reviews do help. So, if you do pick up the book, definitely leave a review. And again Roger, it's been wonderful speaking with you, really, really appreciated the conversation.
Roger Marsh: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks very much, Scott, it's been great to have you ante about shared experience and the other wildness and weirdness of military loss.
Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. All right. Thanks again.
Roger Marsh: No worries.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:15:49 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcasts.com. We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at DriveOnPodcast.
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