Chris Harris web

Finding meaning after the military:

How Soldier On’s Mentor Program and the Pathways Program is making a positive difference to the lives of Veterans and their families.

Chris Harris joined the ADF as a specialist military working dog handler in the RAAF. Chris chose to enlist in 2009 to serve his country and for the opportunities and experiences which came with a career in the Australian Defence Force.

Over the next 8 years, Chris gained unique skills and developed his Defence career with postings to RAAF Base Richmond, Tindal and Darwin before deploying to the Middle East Region in 2015. As part of his military career Chris has also taken part in multiple Exercises around Australia.

Chris says the highlight of his career was being selected for assignment to the Operational Support Squadron within Special Air Service Regiment (SASR). As the Dog Liaison Officer (DLO), Chris was required to undertake daily routines and conduct training of the Regiments’ Dog Teams.

Along with the highs of a Defence career and lifestyle – the adventure, mateship, comradery and a sense of pride in serving his country, negatives of Chris’ military career included various physical injuries, mental health challenges and their ongoing impact on his life/family.

Chris chose to voluntarily separate from the ADF in 2017 to seek a career outside of the military. At this point, Chris faced challenges adjusting to civilian lifestyles.

“At times I lacked personal confidence. I felt a loss of identity when not wearing the uniform and had a diminished sense of belonging,” explains Chris.

After leaving the military, Chris sought to gain strength, re-focus and re-claim his future career and life goals. But like many of the approximately 6000 service men and women who transition out of the Australian Defence Force each year, initially Chris’ separation wasn’t smooth.

After taking a new employment opportunity, Chris found himself rapidly separating from Defence and propelled into the civilian world with little understanding of civilian careers and the kind of support networks available to Veterans transitioning out of the ADF.

Like the many service men and women who find themselves separating quickly from Defence, Chris found his fast departure from the military a struggle. For many veterans, the emotional and practical employment transition isn’t always straight forward for a variety of reasons, and this can have a knock-on effect on the whole Defence family.

“When my employment ceased, I was forced to rely on family but still suffered personal and financial hardship which held immediate impacts on those closest to me. Fortunately, after discussions with the Williamtown Medical Support Coordinator, I received support from Soldier On, Open Arms and Wounded Warriors,” explains Chris.

This marked a turning point in Chris’ employment transition. With the help and support of ex-serving organisations like Soldier On, Chris was able to acclimatise to the civilian world and workforce, establish new support networks and successfully re-claim his career direction and sense of pride and purpose.

Chris was connected with Soldier On’s Pathways Program. The Pathways Program team provides practical employment assistance to veterans and their families, with support like resume-building, job search and job application assistance and connections to Veteran-supportive Soldier On Pledge companies who may be actively recruiting for employees with high-level skills acquired in the ADF.

The Soldier On Pathways Program gave Chris support and a springboard, giving him the opportunity to gain confidence and build vital professional networks and social connections, enabling him to gain confidence and go on to secure long-term meaningful employment.

Today, Chris’ professional career is going from strength to strength and his family life is flourishing. 

“I’m a husband and father of three children who are my everything. We have been fortunate to travel around to some amazing destinations within Australia and they are the moments I live for.”

“Thanks to Soldier On, I was able to gain employment with BGIS, a company who holds the Defence contract for reactive maintenance, project delivery and soft services across NNSW bases. My role as a Facility Supervisor requires me to liaise with Defence members across RAAF Base Williamtown and through the support of various trades/technicians, undertake the delivery of maintenance to respective facilities. My job allows me to continue to support the RAAF and one which I take a huge amount of pride in. I am fortunate to work Monday-Friday and have an amazing work life balance.”

In a fast-paced modern world it can be hard for anyone to find meaning and purpose, especially during the challenging Covid-19 climate. After Chris’ separation from Defence and the initial hurdles he faced, Chris’ turning point began with introductions to ex-serving organisations like Soldier On and the Pathways Program which motivated and empowered him, enabling him to gain confidence and establish a new sense of purpose.

“Like most Defence members, I was not confident to promote myself. The Pathways Program is a relaxed environment that allowed me to meet prospective employers and safely discuss myself personally and professionally. Since gaining employment, I am fortunate to have developed a professional and personal relationship with the Soldier On Team who continue to reach out to my family and I,” says Chris.

In 2020 Chris started volunteering as a Mentor for Soldier On, providing support and guidance to other Veterans as part of Soldier On’s Professional Veteran Mentor Program.

Chris Harris gives back by Mentoring Veterans and ADF family members
Chris Harris gives back by Mentoring Veterans and ADF family members

Research demonstrates that Mentoring can have a huge positive impact – helping to boost Veteran morale and wellbeing. A Mentor can help enable a Mentee to set career goals, identify professional opportunities and empower them to create a clear career path and achieve it. Leading to increased self-confidence, leadership skills development, personal and professional growth, as well as vital networking opportunities and connections. In turn, volunteering as a Mentor can also bring huge benefits, with research showing that volunteers aren’t just helping the communities they serve, but also themselves, as volunteers also become happier over time. 

As part of the Soldier On Mentor initiative, Chris helped to guide and facilitate Airforce Reservist Jodi’s career progression, which also had a positive impact on her future career.

 “After 7 years in the permanent Airforce, change for me into civilian life was massive.”

“I can’t speak highly enough of the mentor programs they have as you are supported and talk to people that have gone through the transition process themselves.

My transition has been a great success and can’t speak highly enough about Solider On,” Jodi says.

Today, Chris is travelling well and enjoying the joy of a good work-life balance and being able to balance family-life, good career progression and the “feel good factor’ of giving back to the Veteran community. 

Chris’ wife Shay continues to serve in the RAAF with Chris’ current career at BGIS (one of Soldier On’s Veteran-suppportive Platinum Pledge Partners) enabling him to enjoy more time with Shay and their 3 children and their little Belgium Malinois puppy, Loki, who Chris is training up to be a support K9 for Veterans.

Chris continues to step up to support the Veteran community by volunteering as a Soldier On Ambassador, promoting Soldier On and ensuring Veterans and their families are connected to one another and to vital support services.

“I’m proud to do my bit for Soldier On and our Veterans.”

Find out more about Chris’ employment transition out of the ADF at the next Soldier On Prep4Pathways digital event.

Hear more about Chris’ and Jodi’s experiences on 31st Aug at 12pm.

Pre-booking essential due to high-demand for this webinar.

Facebook Tile Prep 4 Pathways event
Chris is one of 3 Veterans talking about their employment transitions out of the ADF at the Soldier On Prep 4 Pathways online event on 31st Aug at 12pm.

Looking to gain greater insight into the Pathways Program experience?

The Prep4Pathways Participants’ success stories session will showcase the journey of three ex-serving ADF members who successfully transitioned to civilian employment.

The webinar will share valuable employment lessons, tips to consider when transitioning and how to achieve your future career.

Tuesday 31st August at 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm.

This event will be facilitated online.

Pre-book at: https://www.trybooking.com/BTKZQ or contact Newcastle@soldieron.org.au

#Prep4Pathways #SecureYourFuture #StrongerTogether #Time2Thrive

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