THEY’LL be leading the Anzac Day parade through the streets of Tamworth this year, standing tall and proud.
But you won’t find a strand of grey hair on these veterans.
The Tamworth Young Veterans are the changing faces of war, the new generation of men and women living with the first-hand experience of armed conflict.
Young Veterans is a nationwide organisation aiming raise awareness of the growing number of young veterans within local communities by bringing them together.
Like all returned service men and women, the transition back into civilian life is a difficult one for young vets. But the heavy focus on the World Wars during the nation’s commemorative days, such as Anzac Day, often leaves the younger generation feeling overlooked and without a sense of belonging.
Lieutenant Nursing Officer Rebecca Linich was part of the peacekeeping force in the Solomon Islands and served on the USS Mercy, providing humanitarian aid in the Pacific Rim.
“At one Anzac Day, I had my medals on and I became quite emotional,” Ms Linich said.
“One lady came up to me and asked ‘why are you so upset?’ I said ‘well, I’m a veteran, I’ve served overseas’. She told me ‘oh, but you’re too young’.”
But the nation’s perception of what constitutes a veteran is slowly shifting. Ms Linich said leading the Anzac Day march was a sign of that.
“It’s an absolute honour to be recognised, that’s another step forward for us as well,” she said.
“As Young Veterans we are custodians of the Anzac tradition.”
Tamworth RSL sub-branch president Bob Chapman said giving the Young Veterans the parade lead was “a sign of respect to the younger generation”.
“We want to embrace them, we don’t want them to get lost in the abyss, as I believe Vietnam vets did for many years,” Mr Chapman said, speaking from his own experience as a Vietnam veteran.
“The RSL is a very unique organisation. Whether you are 90 or 19, we all respect each other and respect the commitment each other has given.”
And those aren’t hollow words – the sub-branch has been working with the local Young Veterans to create a physical testament to their commitment and are close to establishing a memorial to post-1973 veterans.
The memorial will join the others lining Marius St, and Ms Linich is hopeful it will be ready for Tamworth sub-branch’s 100th anniversary in May, next year.
“It will be a place of reflection for us, a place of recognition,” she said.
“I would like to think it’s a place that someone who is troubled may come to in an effort to ease their pain.
“I drive past here twice a day, five days a week. If I drove past and saw someone here I’d pull up and check in with them.”
Fellow young veteran Libby Ryman served in the Persian Gulf twice aboard the HMAS Kanimbla.
The first was a six month deployment just after the 9/11 attacks when she was 19. That was followed by another six months in 2003 during the conflict in Iraqi.
She said returning to civilian life was quite the adjustment.
“It can be hard to relate to people,” Ms Ryman said.
“Especially when you’ve witnessed these things and been a part of a group that has gone through these things together.”
Those life-changing experiences aren’t always combat related.
Ms Ryman was aboard the HMAS Kanimble when it provided aid to the tsunami-stricken Indonesia in 2004.
“We were meant to be away for four weeks, but it ended up being four months,” she said.
“We were returning home, and then the earthquake at [Indonesian island] Nias happened, so we went back there to assist.”
On 2 April, 2005, Sea King helicopter Shark 02 launched from HMAS Kanimbla to help villagers in urgent need of medical assistance, but it never returned.
The copper went down due to a failure in the flight control systems, killing nine of the eleven personnel aboard; the single deadliest incident in the Australian Defence Force since 1996.
The incident had a profound effect on the ship’s crew and the entire defence force.
“That’s why [the Young Veterans] is important,” Ms Ryman said.
“It will be wonderful when we get this memorial happening. It will mean that other people know – you don’t always have to say – where you’re at with things.”
Private Ben Lye, who served on two tours of Afghanistan and a tour of the Solomon Islands, will be marching proudly at the front of the parade with the Young Veterans.
He said simply knowing support was available put the minds of many younger veterans at ease.
“It’s good having those people around town, that if you need to talk to them about anything, they’re just a phone call away,” Mr Lye said.
“The RSL is working very hard to get the younger guys in. They’ve always included me and the other young veterans in town.
“It’s something they are very focused on in the sub-branch, because eventually we’ll have to take over as time goes on.”
There is another message both the sub-branch and the Young Veterans are pushing very hard – the RSL is not just for those who have served overseas.
“We accept all – a veteran is anyone who has put on the uniform – full time, reservist, deployed or not,” Ms Linich said.
Aaron Kemp of the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers said as an Army Reservist, there was a “pretty slim chance of ever facing bullets coming the other way”. Despite this, the Young Veterans and the sub-branch welcomed him with open arms.
“They are so happy to see you, the older veterans love to meet and talk to the younger ones, even if they are people like me who will never see a war zone,” he said.
For more information about the Young Veterans call the sub-branch on 6762 1244.