Sergeant Simone Campbell was with the Royal Australian Air Force for 17 years and flew on missions in and out of Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor. And was a member of support teams following the Bali bombings and tsunamis. She has personally endured many challenges. Now the work she does with youth and some of the six million Australians who suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is helping many. Greg Ellis discovers what motivates her.
During 17 years in the Royal Australian Air Force Sergeant Simone Campbell encountered many things. Sgt Campbell is also a military wife and a mother of three young boys.
She knows what it is like to serve in combat situations and has had many life experiences that have shaped her into the person she is today. Someone who is making a difference in many lives as Wollongong begins to lead the way in helping people in the community with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sgt Campbell grew up knowing a lot about what being in the defence forces can mean. Her father Barry Read served in Vietnam and had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She grew up knowing what the term PTSD meant from an early age. She now speaks about it publicly. “I saw the anger ... and the abuse, the shame, the torture and the torment my father felt through his whole life. He never really recovered from it. And he died at the young age of 59,” she said.
When Sgt Campbell was invited to speak at an Illawarra Women In Business lunch in 2015 she said that was one of many things she thought about talking about.
She said could have also spoken about growing up in a part of the Gold Coast where there were lots of drugs, thefts and shootings. “It really was quite a troubled environment where I was raised,” she said.
Sgt Campbell said she could also speak about sexual assault, or miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. “And I could have spoken about losing my brother (Ryan) in a car explosion early in 2015 at Currumbin Bridge.”
Sgt Campbell said she had many stories to tell that have shaped her life. She was invited to speak after she was recognised at the Illawarra Women in Business Awards last May for her outstanding commitment to the community.
The citation from the ANZ Corporate and Commercial Banking judges acknowledged how Sgt Campbell, of Summit Fitness, was a true inspiration. And how she was a founder of FearLess, an organisation that concentrates on helping people suffering with PTSD.
It is not only focused on the military services but everything from emergency services to nursing. It has recently established a presence at South Coast Private where it wants to help many Illawarra people.
The judges also noted how much more Sgt Campbell does in the community though her involvement in helping the Illawarra Junior Triathlon Club train and create a path for junior athletes to follow. It allows for juniors of all abilities and disabilities, shapes and sizes, to get involved in fun fitness activities.
Sgt Campbell also supports children from the Lighthouse Youth Initiative as a personal trainer and lifestyle coach and helps them raise funds to purchase clothes, shoes and other items to participate in fitness.
The judges said she had done so many things in her lifetime it was almost hard to comprehend how one person could manage to accomplish so much. They include many personal milestones such as completing the Ironman Australia in 2013 and summiting Mt Aspiring and Mt Cook. The citation read ‘’Simone is a true inspiration … and shows that we can achieve anything if we set out minds to it’’.
Living with the horrors of what you have seen … is quite traumatic.
She recently introduced herself at an event as the wife of a returned serviceman from Afghanistan and Iraq. As the mother of three boys under 12, including one with special needs, and the managing director of Summit Fitness Studio.
She’s also a founding board member of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Australia & New Zealand FearLess Outreach, which helps people regain control over their lives after post traumatic stress.
She was also a flight attendant in the Royal Australian Air Force where she looked after the well-being of the crew and passengers such as the Prime Minister, the Governor General, Federal ministers and dignitaries such as the Queen.
Sgt Campbell’s military career started at 21 when she walked into a recruiting office to start a new life. What followed was a combat survival training course that changed her life.
She was placed in a team with four men - which was the only group not to get captured during the final survival training exercise. This was followed by her being flown into an isolated location where she had to survive on her own without supplies.
“For me life began at the end of my comfort zone. The training was hard and it was the most challenging thing I have ever done,’’ she said.
In September 1999 her aircraft was loaded with Special Forces bound for East Timor. It landed at night between two mountains and with no runway lights. She could see shots being fired. She did that for the next six months and learned to live with fear.
That was followed by support missions after the Bali bombings and tsunamis before being sent to the War on Terror. When she finally returned she found it hard to re-adjust. “I had to find ways to control the memories. I do have night terrors. Living with the horrors of what you have seen…is quite traumatic.”
For anyone suffering PTSD Sgt Campbell believes it is very important to tell the stories. She said what happened when the Vietnam veterans returned was they felt they couldn’t say anything because they thought no one wanted to hear. She encourages people not to be afraid to be to open up. “You will never know how far you can go until you try.”
Sgt Campbell said people who experience traumatic events often have nightmares and relive the fear every day. It can be a horrifying and crippling condition where the mind is haunted by memories and it seems like there is no escape. That can result in anger and anxiety.
Sgt Campbell is part of a national initiative to help people from all walks of life deal with PTSD. She is helping Wollongong lead the way in this area with the new PTSD forum being launched in March.
“I have teamed with the South Coast Private Hospital. FearLess needs sponsors, helpers and emergency service people willing to tell their story about having or living with someone with PTSD,” she said.
Sgt Campbell said it was time to create opportunities for people to tell their stories. She has helped many step outside their comfort zone and succeed at goals they thought impossible. She is dedicated to creating awareness and support for families who care for people who live with PTSD.
The forum will create a co-ordinated network of outreach and support services to help them regain control over their lives. And FearLess has been developing resources to assist carers.
Sgt Campbell has also been involved in establishing a NSW Schools Practical Resilience Training initiative to help HSC students. She loves inspiring children of all abilities to get outside their comfort zone and has helped at-risk youth prepare for an aquathon as part of a Lighthouse Youth and Anglicare initiative.
Her son Aiden, 8, held an art show to raise awareness for children like him with learning and memory disabilities. He donated an artwork to the Wollongong Hospital children’s ward.
See a gallery of pictures from the last Illawarra Women In Business Awards here http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3050946/gumboots-inspired-business-woman/
Read about other amazing winners from the 2015 Illawarra Women In Business Awards here http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3066597/illawarra-drama-tutor-takes-top-award/
News on the 2016 Illawarra Women In Business Awards http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/3523089/iwib-business-awards-launched/