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Veteran Eddie combats demons of Afghanistan

Leon (Eddie) Abdul-Rahman surrounded by friends and family at Spinnaker Park, Gladstone.
Leon (Eddie) Abdul-Rahman surrounded by friends and family at Spinnaker Park, Gladstone. Luka Kauzlaric

YOU can't see all of his scars, but returned soldier Leon (Eddie) Abdul-Rahman's war wounds have sent him to hell and back.

One of 374 veterans living in the Gladstone region, Mr Abdul-Rahman didn't sign up for post-traumatic stress disorder, but that's what he got from his time fighting in Afghanistan's war against Taliban insurgents.

Nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia, anger and depression made the year following his return from his seven-month tour the hardest in the former army corporal's life.

His body is still feeling the consequences, with a frostbite-damaged foot from Afghanistan's minus-11 degree environment and a neck injury from excessive training he imposed on himself so he could be his best in combat.

Mr Abdul-Rahman's proudest moments were achieved through his military service, but they came at a huge personal cost.

When he returned to his Townsville barracks in 2009 after seven months in Afghanistan, a combination of intense pain from his untreated neck injury and symptoms of PTSD had driven him into a deep depression.

"There was no guidance, nothing," Mr Abdul-Rahman said.

"You went over there to fight for your country, and then you come back and you come back with injuries, and I wasn't getting looked after properly."

He took refuge in the company of colleagues he'd fought with side by side, and isolated himself from family and friends who he was afraid didn't understand.

"I just wanted to be with the blokes, coming back from operation," he said.

"I never met men that treat you like a brother…once you put that uniform on, that's it, it's like a motherhood," he said.

Being part of Townsville's First Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment was a dream and ambition of the 42-year-old man's since his youth in Gladstone.

"(The) military bloodline is very thick in this family," he said, referring to his Papua New Guinean-born mother's side of the family.

Mr Abdul-Rahman's sister, Gladstone's Georgina Harmer , felt helpless as she felt him retreat from the family.

"He was always too busy. You couldn't catch him, to talk for 10 minutes," she said.

"We had to learn it's not the same person as before. And it was hard to see him at the beginning," she said.

She too was surprised and shocked that on his return the defence force provided no de-briefs for her brother, as early treatment can prevent PTSD symptoms from becoming chronic.

Military training makes people suspend their own knowledge of what's right and wrong, Ms Harmer said.

"If a person murdered someone, and we read about it in the paper, we (say) 'what was that insane person thinking? They're crazy'.

"But we actually train sane people to go and defend our country and expect them to be normal again."

Mr Abdul-Rahman is now living in Gladstone where he coaches the Valleys under-15s rugby league team and is planning to start a business in personal training.

The Gladstone man speaks about his journey for the first time in tomorrow's Weekend Observer.

Topics:  afghanistan, defence force, editors picks, health, mental health, ptsd



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