Soldier On Christmas Party

Soldier On was inspired by the death of a friend. Lieutenant Michael Fussell was killed in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2008 and his friend John Bale looked for a way to support those who survived the blast.

SOLDIER ON is about Australians coming together to show their support for our physically and psychologically wounded. We want to show the men and women of our defence forces that we will always have their backs.

My wife and I volunteer with Soldier On in Canberra which saw us at Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park adjacent to Lake Burley Griffin for the Christmas Party. This was a free event for the veteran community and their children with a jumping castle, merry-go-round, reptile zoo, face painting, food and drinks, characters from Star Wars, plus the girls from the Canberra Capitals wandering around in 37 degree heat. 

Live band, George Huitker & Junk Sculpture, provided great entertainment including some brilliant Midnight Oil covers plus the odd Storm Trooper dance. 

The crowd was down a bit on what was expected due to the heat and wind but several hundred people still turned up.

Members of the Veterans MC Federal Chapter turned up on their bikes and set up a line of Harleys for the crowd to check out.

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Adrien ‘Hoppo’ Hopkins is a veteran of Timor and Afghanistan and served more than 30 years in the Army. Hoppo and his Young Diggers assistance dog Simba have clocked up more than 37,000 km on their Harley over the past two years. There is more to come: Hoppo and Simba are planning a trip around Australia, more than once, to visit as many memorials in every little town they can and document the trip. You can’t miss them on their Ultra with Simba riding pillion. You can check out their Facebook page “Hoppo & Simba Riding 4 PTSD”.

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Another member of the Veterans MC, Rob Pickersgill, is the driving force behind Soldier On in the ACT. A veteran of Rwanda, Timor and Iraq, Rob can be found all over the ACT region working with the veteran community and putting on the occasional red suit to thrill some kids. 

The Veterans MC are a fantastic club and an important part of the support network. They get involved in many things from Sumo, a Vietnam Veteran, up singing with Santa, and the poker run that supports the Cooma and Queanbeyan Hospitals. 

I had a great conversation with Bear from the Veterans MC and his view on life. All good Karma to you Bear.

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I was up by the registration tent and a lovely lady approached me and asked if she could take some pictures of the bikes. I offered her a seat on mine if she wanted. We spoke for a while and I discovered I was talking to Janny Poate, mother of Robbie Poate who was murdered by a rogue Afghan Army Sergeant. The ‘Robert Poate Reintegration and Recovery Centre’ at the National Headquarters at Gungahlin Homestead is named after the son of Janny and Hugh Poate who continue to support the veteran community and “had formed insoluble bonds with Afghan war casualties during a walk along the Kokoda Track”.

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The Christmas party would not have happened or run so smoothly without Rob, Yolande (whose husband is a veteran also) and the other great staff and volunteers from Soldier On; the vendors Doing Donuts, C&J Fun Foods and Cafe2U who were donating money from the day to Soldier On; and assistance from the Red Cross, ACT Fire & Rescue, Netball ACT, The Canberra Valley Lions Club, and those Star Wars characters.

Veteran and photographer Shea Jost was also on hand; you can see his work and follow him on twitter @photosbyShea

Those who read my ramblings will know that I usually sign off with a quote; the following is taken from the plaque in the garden at the Poate property in Gundaroo, NSW. 

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves memories no one can steal. This garden is dedicated to the loving memory of Robert Hugh Frederick Poate. 15.11.88 – 29-8-12. Soldier killed in Afghanistan. Rest in peace. Lest We Forget.

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Ride Safe and FREE… Mork

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