Coming Home Participants

Coming Home – featuring Vietnam veteran Richard McLaren and Karen McLaren (Melzer, 2014)

When Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Vietnam veteran, Richard McLaren, returned home from Vietnam in 1970, he was ostracized from his family and he believed no one understood him. Richard was identified as having PTSD almost twenty-five years after discharging from the RAAF. However, he disputed the claim as he thought the diagnosis was based solely on his participation in the Vietnam War. Richard feels his issues stemmed from his treatment after coming home and the lack of support rather than from doing his job in the RAAF and doing it well. During a parade in 1998, Richard was screaming internally he said and almost walked out of the parade. He grappled with people coming up to him as he marched, when they said ‘welcome home’ or ‘well done’ and patted him on the back, eighteen years after he had returned home from Vietnam. In his mind, the whole event was a case of ‘too little too late’. In 2014, forty-four years after returning from his tour in Vietnam, Richard returned to Vietnam with his wife of twenty years, Karen McLaren. They renewed their wedding vows creating a positive memory of the place. Together they have learnt how to manage the symptoms of PTSD that saw them metaphorically ‘go to hell and back’. This is a beautiful story about how love and commitment to each other, and the therapeutic value of photography, helped with the adverse effects of living with PTSD.

    Vietnam veteran Richard McLaren

    Vietnam veteran Richard McLaren – Richard has a passion for portrait photography and teaches photographic courses for people with a disability and/or mental illness. Read more

Coming Home – featuring Vietnam veteran Joe Gates (Melzer, 2014)

Upon returning home from his second tour of Vietnam in 1970, as part of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR), Joe Gates felt socially and emotionally isolated. He packed away his Army uniform and tried to drown his memories and emotions with alcohol. Joe found he could not relate to his family and he could not control his anger. A simple thing such as his children coming home late would cause Joe to fly into a rage, as his Army training surfaced. The Army trained him to believe ‘if you’re late, you’re dead’, a train of thought triggered anxiety and aggression. He would do anything to get away from being in family situations. Joe’s behavior led to his divorce. Nearly thirty years after returning from his second tour to Vietnam, Joe was identified with PTSD and found help with prescribed medication and counselling. Joe does not want any other service person to go through what he went through and once he found treatment that improved the quality of his life, he started a journey to help others to get PTSD treatment. Joe used the movie ‘The Railway Man’ as a point of reference, for others to understand how completely disabling PTSD can be.

    Vietnam veteran Joe Gates

    Vietnam veteran Joe Gates – assists the Currumbin RSL with special veteran events such as the pop-up museum for anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. Read more

Coming Home – featuring Flight Sergeant, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Medical assistant Manager, Frank Alcantara (Melzer, 2014)

Flight Sergeant, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Medical Assistant Manager, Frank Alcantara has served for almost thirty-five years and been on multiple deployments. Frank recognised he had a problem after deployment to the 2002 Bali Bombings. He shares his traumatic memories of helping the dying and wounded after the Bali bombings. It was a sensory overload that never left his mind. In 2006, after returning from deployment in Iraq, Frank got treatment for PTSD however, he pushed aside and hid PTSD symptoms and returned to work. In 2012, Frank had a complete breakdown and was sent home from deployment in the Middle East due to his PTSD. Frank struggled with the massive loss of career and is currently in the process of preparing to be medically discharged from the RAAF. Frank is attending a PTSD course at the Toowong Private Hospital and learning strategies to manage his PTSD symptoms. In 2014, Frank participated in a veteran support group, Mates4Mates, Kokoda Challenge. He found the experience therapeutic and wants to go back to the village in 2015 ‘to give something back’.

    Veteran Frank Alcantara

    Veteran Frank Alcantara is settling into civilian life after a stellar military career.

Coming Home – featuring Rwandan veteran John Enchong and Naomi Enchong (Melzer, 2014)

Rwandan veteran John Enchong served in the Royal Australian Army for almost twenty-one years. By 2001 he had broken his back and ‘broken his mind’. John was identified as having PTSD and medically discharged on TPI (totally and permanently incapacitated), which ended his military career. John speaks about his struggles with PTSD symptoms and his failed attempts at suicide. John attended a PTSD course at Toowong Private Hospital and was asked to leave after three days due to his aggressive behavior. During his short stay at the hospital, he met a Vietnam veteran who would write his thoughts down on paper and then burn the paper, as a form of therapy. John started to do the same. His wife, Naomi, discovered a poem one day that he was writing on the computer desk and it brought tears to her eyes. Naomi encouraged John to keep the poem. John gained confidence to keep writing, finding it therapeutic to slow his mind. He has written several books of poetry, raw, sad, emotional and beautiful.

    Rwandan veteran John Enchong

    Rwandan veteran John Enchong – John and his wife Naomi Enchong enjoy working and helping the veteran community in the Sunshine Coast & Regional District RSL. Read more

Coming Home – featuring Afghanistan veteran Anthony Jones (Melzer, 2014)

Afghanistan veteran Anthony Jones (6 RAR) did not accept his diagnosis of PTSD when he was initially identified as having the condition. He could not see the difference between himself and the other boys in his regiment. After counseling and professional medical treatment, Anthony now recognises his behaviors; anxiety, short attention span and aggression were symptoms of PTSD. Anthony struggled with the loss of his burgeoning military career and with the symptoms of PTSD. He discovered a veteran support group, Young Diggers and the Dog Squad program initiated by Malaya and Vietnam veteran John Jarrett. When John Jarrett returned from his tour of Vietnam, there was no support or support groups. John founded the veteran support group Young Diggers and initiated dog therapy programs, which include ‘Dogs for Diggers’. The ‘Dogs for Diggers’ program is run through the Bathurst Correctional Centre where the dogs are trained with professional dog trainers and selected inmates for a six-month period and then handed over to veterans with PTSD. John arranged for a dog that had been trained at the Bathurst Correctional Centre to assist Anthony Jones. Anthony’s story is one of hope. It is a positive story that reflects the true meaning of a ‘dog being man’s best friend’.

    Afghanistan veteran Anthony Jones

    Afghanistan veteran Anthony Jones and his assistance dog Zeus.

Coming Home Crew

Kym Melzer – Producer/Director/Editor – ‘Coming Home’ series

Music – Richard McLaren film:
Soundtrack Music- E Dragon ‘Lost Souls’
Music – Joe Gates film:
The Railway Man music composed by David Hirschfelder 2013.
Kai Engel ‘Comfort in a Bottle’
Music – Frank Alcantara film:
Angry Anderson ‘Bound for Glory’ Mushroom records.
Tibre’s variants ‘Jobro’s Heart’.
Kai Engel ‘Past the Lanterns’
q-t ‘rain’
Music – John Enchong film:
Composed by Johann Pachelbel ‘Canon in D’ 1919.
Music – Anthony Jones film:
Music courtesy of Dagwood Stevens ‘This Way Forward’.