Swapping your sword for a shield is not easy. That's why Wollongong-based outfit the Shield Academy was founded by veterans to help others adjust their skills to civilian life.
When former commando Dallas Hodgetts left the Australian Defence Force after 15 years in uniform, his retraining options offered by the ADF were limited to just one: a one-day barista course.
At age 37, with a young family, he'd decided to leave the military - beginning a transition to civilian life that a great many former soldiers can find more difficult than negotiating the hills around Helmand Province.
While in the army, Hodgetts had served in Timor Leste, then completed two tours of Afghanistan, returning home safe to join Australia's domestic counter terrorism task force.
As a sniper and medic in the 2nd Commando Regiment, he'd been at the very top of his field - which happened to be one of the toughest jobs on earth - and had risked his life on a daily basis in a workplace that must be among the most challenging imaginable.
A one-day coffee course didn't quite fit the bill for the next stage of his life. It wasn't a status thing - more to do with the fact that what came next would have to replace something he'd considered a calling.
While he had achieved higher rank before becoming a commando, it is customary for new special forces members to take a rank reduction to private. But the Defence force's Career Transition Assistance Scheme (CTAS) was based on evaluating a person's need based solely on their rank and time of service.
So when he left, despite his experience, it was on a transition plan designed for a man who after 15 years remained a private.
"It wasn't easy," he told Weekender. "I had a big loss of identity. I still saw myself as someone from 2 Commando Regiment and I found that really hard to let go of."
Taking down all the wartime pictures helped, but that didn't mean a new path suddenly revealed itself.
"The journey for us - my wife was instrumental in it - was looking for what I could do," he said. "I applied for 100 jobs in 18 months and I didn't get an interview for a single one.
I applied for 100 jobs in 18 months and I didn't get an interview for a single one.
"I was a machine with the job search engines and the agencies. I was applying for all ends of the spectrum - from an apprentice greenkeeper, to a case manager with the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA).
"I was told I didn't have any corporate experience. I felt like saying to the guys from DVA 'mate, my corporate experience is your customers'.
"I tried police, didn't get a look in. I was hearing the same thing from a lot of veterans. That was the catalyst for Shield Academy."
With more recognition of the need for support and options for soldiers coming back to everyday society, the ADF has made moves to improve their role in the transition - and a parliamentary inquiry into the Transition from the Australian Defence Force held hearings last year. And the more recent waves of returned Diggers are often determined that the same mistakes won't be repeated with their comrades.
But Dallas Hodgetts' experience was just four years ago. Like many others, Hodgetts was approaching what fellow Shield Academy founder Marcus Zeltzer calls a "lost in translation moment" - how to choose the next step in a career after a calling as a soldier.
And as Hodgetts points out, often the decision to leave the defence forces is one which comes about quickly - whereas education and training for different employment is a long game.
"Mine came really quickly," he said. " I was pretty burnt out ... and I didn't know how to discharge. I went in to work on a Tuesday, told the Sergeant I need a break, and he said take 12 months leave without pay. I was out on the Friday. Never went back. It was really hard - I had difficulties."
Not only is there the matter of choosing a new path all of a sudden, but then there's finding a way to sell your skills to a potential employer, when operating a 50-calibre sniper rifle, or surviving for days with minimal food, is unlikely to be part of your new job description.
This was hard for Hodgetts - until a leader at the University of Wollongong College challenged him, pointing out she could find valuable skills in almost every part of a sniper team CV. With the help of Zeltzer - "a commercial guy who had never served in the military" - he enrolled in university.
They formed the Shield Academy, which supports returned ADF members and their families through the transition process, and into meaningful employment.
"It's getting them to understand their own skills," Zeltzer told the parliamentary inquiry. "It's translating, with respect, the military jargon on their CV to the civilian equivalents. But it's also understanding what career outcome they want. It's not good enough for me to say, 'I've got 50 [mining] jobs, do you want one of those?' when you really want is to be a pharmacist, irrespective of the rank that you held.
"So that's bringing people up and then it's advocating to employers on the other end."
Basing themselves in Wollongong basically because the Illawarra is a great place to live, Shield teams up with the UOW College, works with employers, and advocates for returned Diggers. It's funded by placement fees from employers when jobs are found, and corporate sponsorship.
Rather than the clunky formula for assistance, Shield concentrates on each individual's needs to get work-ready - for free.
"No-one from the Shield Academy will ever ask a veteran for a dollar," Hodgetts said. "That's not why we're doing it."
Shield made a submission to last year's parliamentary inquiry which argued the 5000 or so service men and women coming out of the force each year could be considered something of a skilled workforce, equipped with high-level teamwork and communication skills.
Sheild's submission said many areas with skills shortages require the maturity, experience and character traits ex-ADF members possess, including teamwork, communication skills, leadership and WHS/risk management.
They argued for a publicly funded wage subsidy for employers who take on former ADF members as adult apprentices. This recommendation was not taken up by the inquiry, which suggested in its final report that the government consider this only for involuntary discharges.
For his part, Hodgetts had to study up on the law to fight his own battles over defence entitlements post-service. He relished the battle and wants to take it further.
At first he tried primary teaching, but realised a business course was more what he needed. With that almost finished, he has his sights trained on a law degree.
"It was fantastic to defeat someone with intelligence, rather than by being a bully," he said.
His attacking time behind him, Hodgetts is now his brother's defender.