I am now a member of No 31 (City of Wagga Wagga) Squadron. This squadron has a long proud history, dating back to its formation in Wagga on 14 Aug 1942. They were very active during WWII flying Bristol Beaufighter aircraft and based in exotic places like Coomalie Creek (where I dedicated a plaque about 10 years ago), Noemfoor and Moratai before being disbanded on 06 Jul 1946. On 01 Jul 2010 this SQN was again stood up, however the WOD tells me that we are the only SQN in the RAAF that does not have a squadron crest!
We are in the process of fixing that but why? What difference does it make? We need to know who we are! Military history in particular and human history in general recognises that our identification with a military unit, community and country, requires a concrete rallying point, a symbol, a flag to draw us together and unify us in our common cause.
The fact is, that sense of identification is also important to us as individuals, because we all need to know who we are and where we fit. Hugh Mackay in his recent book called “What Makes Us Tick” suggests that this is “one of the ten desires that drive us”. Do you know who you are? What symbols give your life meaning and draw the best out of you?
My experience is that it is only as we connect with who we are that we will be able to effectively connect with others. It seems to me that those who lack this self awareness, who are struggling with grief and loss due to death or divorce or even for some, the effects of joining the military are most at risk to a range of mental health issues. At one end of this spectrum would be mild depression, while at the other end would be a level of hopelessness which may result in suicidal thoughts.
So what can we do about it? How do we find ourselves and recover from the traumatic events that have left us feeling lost? The first step is to find someone you trust to talk to who will help you to tell your story. People such as Chaplains, Medical and Psychologists might be able to help you with this. The next step is to find some creative way to symbolise who you are and where you fit in the world. That might be a self portrait, a collage of photographs, or something else you might make that has meaningful symbolism for you. You are only limited by your own imagination!
Finally, I want to assure you that you are unique, special, and loved by God. Although you may feel alone, your family does love you, your unit does care, and the RAAF wants to help you through your struggles. You are part of a rich tradition, remember your history, encourage one another and value the symbols we share together. In your spare time you might like to design a new 31 SQN crest!
Chaplain Ian Whitley