Australian Defence Force soldier speaks out about struggling to readjust to civilian life

Chris Wallace says communication is key for returning soldiers. Picture: ROBERT PEET Inset: Serving in Afghanistan in 2010. Picture: SUPPLIED
Chris Wallace says communication is key for returning soldiers. Picture: ROBERT PEET Inset: Serving in Afghanistan in 2010. Picture: SUPPLIED

After serving on the frontline in Afghanistan for nine months, former Australian Defence Force soldier Chris Wallace believed taking his life was the only option to escape the crippling isolation after returning home. The 32-year-old Illawarra man bravely opens up to be the voice of other soldiers suffering in silence.

For Wollongong resident Chris Wallace, it was the point of no return; feelings of isolation and worthlessness consumed the Afghanistan veteran forcing him to find an escape after he was back on Australian soil. 

“I broke down,” he said. 

“I didn’t know why I was angry and upset, and I remember thinking I will never stop feeling like this. I always felt like I was scrunching up my face really hard and someone was squeezing my brain. 

“There was just too much pressure and tension.” 

After being deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 for a nine-month tour, Chris developed a brotherhood with the soldiers in 6RAR that was sorely missed when he returned home. 

SPEAKING OUT: Former soldier Chris Wallace has launched ‘Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention' on Facebook to help others. Picture: Robert Peet.

SPEAKING OUT: Former soldier Chris Wallace has launched ‘Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention' on Facebook to help others. Picture: Robert Peet.

“You are around your mates all the time,” he said. 

“Even when you are getting shot at, there’s a mate right there. My patrol base had 15 other Australians, and we would go for four or five missions a week. 

“The camaraderie was huge.” 

Living within this environment with repeated contacts and IED explosions, Chris found himself struggling to readjust to civilian life. 

“When you were switched on for nine months and called in choppers to help save an ANA soldier in need of urgent medical help, you can't reintegrate into society,” he said. 

“You can’t match the adrenaline high of being shot at or seeing someone get blown up and fixing them or calling in choppers. You end up feeling isolated and feeling like if you can’t get to that point again, your life has already peaked.” 

Battling with these thoughts for a number of years, Chris tried to take his own life. 

“You get to a point where you think the best thing possible for me is to not be here so everyone can get on with their lives and then I won't have to feel like this anymore,” he said. 

“The only reason it didn’t work was because I was stopped halfway through. If I wasn’t stopped, I would have killed myself.” 

Having been to the depths of despair, Chris said communication is key. 

ON DUTY: Wollongong resident Chris Wallace served in Afghanistan for nine months during 2010 with the Australian Defence Force 6RAR. Picture: Supplied.

ON DUTY: Wollongong resident Chris Wallace served in Afghanistan for nine months during 2010 with the Australian Defence Force 6RAR. Picture: Supplied.

“It is hard to come back from Afghanistan and hear people whinging because it’s a bit cold, but the best thing to do is to talk,” he said.

“I have been to the absolute point of no return, so I can associate with people who have come close themselves.  People might call me weak, but if one person says ‘can I have a chat’ it is worth it.” 

In times of need, Chris has reached out to organisations including the Woonona Bulli RSL Sub-Branch. 

“It is one of the best, as well as Soldier On, Beyond Blue and and Lifeline.” 

Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.