Luke Rushal struggled to adjust to civilian life. Picture: SAP/David McMahon
Luke Rushal struggled to adjust to civilian life. Picture: SAP/David McMahon

Sad reason Aussie lost ‘dream job’

When Sydney man Luke Rushal finished high school, there was only one career he was interested in.

As a sporty teen more interested in adventure than a desk job, he enlisted in the army at 18 and didn't look back.

"I had a few friends and family members who were already in the forces, but at the end of the day, it was a combination of things … My parents and grandparents were refugees (from Lebanon) so for me it was an opportunity to give back to Australia, and it was also about creating my own legacy.," he told news.com.au.

"And also, at 18, who doesn't want to travel and see things and run around outdoors and do all the good stuff they promise you'll do?"

Mr Rushal enlisted in April 2005, and in 2007, he was sent on his first deployment to Iraq at the age of just 21, due in part to his Arabic language skills.

He said it was a "privilege and an honour" to wear the uniform during overseas deployments and to join the Anzac tradition.

Luke Rushal joined the army at 18. Picture: Supplied
Luke Rushal joined the army at 18. Picture: Supplied

"It's quite special, and on top of that being a first-generation Australian adds a little bit more weight behind it," he said.

"The best way to describe being in the army is that it's not just a job, it's a lifestyle. For the most part you live on base so you're always around work - it's a very unusual occupation."

Mr Rushal said nothing compared with being sent to a combat zone.

"On the trip over I didn't really focus on it, but it hits home just before you land. It does stir up some emotions," he said.

"Obviously, you're very well prepared and you're there to do a job, so you kind of put any nervous energy and anticipation to the side … but nerves are a natural response, and I'm yet to meet anyone who says, 'Nah, I wasn't nervous'.

"All the training doesn't compare with actually being there," Mr Rushal said.

He said the job came with "enormous highs" like sharing in the armed forces' traditions and the "privilege" of being in command of other soldiers - although a lot of pressure also came with that responsibility.

Mr Rushal said one of his career highlights was assisting medical staff who were processing applications for asylum for locals who were helping the Australian armed forces.

He was sent to Iraq in 2007. Picture: Supplied
He was sent to Iraq in 2007. Picture: Supplied

"When we announced we were leaving (Iraq) there was quite a heightened level of danger for those people … for me it was a very powerful example of helping people who were perhaps in a very similar situation to my family's own story - they were just looking for something better and somewhere safe for their families where they didn't have to be constantly worried," he said.

"At times it got a little bit sad if for whatever reason you knew someone's application for asylum was not going so well, but fortunately I wasn't the one making those tough decisions."

But unfortunately, after nine years, Mr Rushal was forced to give up his "dream job" after being medically discharged in early 2014 at the age of just 27.

"I had PTSD, which was one of the big factors in it as well as anxiety and depression. I wasn't coping well, and I wasn't seeking treatment when I should have," he said.

"To be told that by the organisation I had literally given my blood, sweat and tears to was a tough pill to swallow, and it does create a certain level of ambiguity and turbulence.

"It is part of your identity, and to hang up your uniform for the last time and try to find yourself again is quite difficult."

Mr Rushal said there wasn't one particular event that triggered his mental health struggles. It was all down to the constant strain of living in a combat zone.

Mr Rushal was discharged at the age of 27 after just nine years in his dream job. Picture: SAP/David McMahon
Mr Rushal was discharged at the age of 27 after just nine years in his dream job. Picture: SAP/David McMahon

"When you're at home sitting around with your friends on the weekend, you're not expecting mortars to start falling while you're sitting on Bronte Beach, but that's the context you're living in for months, and it has to have an impact," he said.

"There's an enormous amount of responsibility placed on you, and it's a high-stress environment."

After his discharge, Mr Rushal originally found work in the fashion industry, then in a warehouse, and even spent time as a coffee roaster in Brisbane.

But in June 2017, Mr Rushal's health deteriorated and he turned to local veterans' organisations for support. He was then told about a training program run by software company SAP in the US that was geared towards working with security agencies.

He was selected as one of 20 veterans with little IT experience to complete the training and was eventually offered a business process consultant role at SAP in Canberra.

In a fitting twist, Mr Rushal was immediately put to work on a project with the Australian Defence Force, and he said he was "enormously fortunate" to have snagged his career change.

"I never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be doing the job I'm doing now," he said.


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