Breaking the Stigma Surrounding Our Veterans - Ken's Story


Tell us a bit about yourself: 

I’m Ken Fountain and I’m 73 and retired from the workforce. I’m happily married with 3 beautiful daughters and 5 wonderful grandchildren.

I’ve lived on the Gold Coast for many years now but was born and grew up in Sydney – an original ‘Bondi Boy’. It was from there that I joined the Army in 1967.

What type of work were you involved in after leaving the ADF and what are you up to these days?

I was lucky enough to return to the sales job I had prior to being conscripted but found myself restless and, as it was primarily an office role, unable to concentrate. I changed companies and felt a little more settled. Here I started as a field sales representative and rose to a state sales manager of a large multi-national company.

I took a leap of faith in my late 40s and joined start-up company in a completely new role in lower management – that was AUSTAR, later to merge with Foxtel. Since retiring around 5 years ago, I’ve used my time to travel overseas alone with my wife and together as a big family group.

I’ve been catching up on lost time I badly missed with my family due to the pressures and time demands of the workplace. I’ve also done a little volunteering and it was here that I was able to use some of my skills to successfully match those who were looking to volunteer with those businesses and organisations seeking help.

I try to keep healthy and active and part of doing so is meeting up with a group of fellow veterans each Monday and Thursday for mandatory coffee and a chat after a full-on session of Pilates and exercises.

What's your background (military service, deployment experience if any, career highlights)?

I was one of 804,000, 20 year old Australians who were legally required to register for a National Service ballot between 1964 and 1972. Of them, nearly 64,000 were ‘called up’ and served in the Australian Army. I was one of the 15,381 National Servicemen who served in Vietnam – my tour of duty was in 1968. After basic training to convert me from a civilian to an army private and rifleman, I did additional training so that on my tour of duty overseas it was as an Artillery Forward Observer (FO).

I guess because I mainly worked closely with NZ Infantry, you could call me a true ANZAC. Wherever the infantry went, so did I and it was when we made close contact with the enemy, that my job really began. In the heat of conflict, it was my role to call in (radio for) artillery or airstrikes as support – something that needed calmness and a fair bit of accuracy – no satellite GPS assistance way back then.

Whilst it is a highlight for all the wrong reasons, it was when an ill-prepared FSB Coral was almost overrun by greatly superior numbers of North Vietnam enemy forces. Survival depended upon strong leadership, initiative and quite a bit of good luck.

As a Veteran have you faced any personal or professional challenges since transitioning from the ADF?

It is well documented that those veterans returning from the Vietnam war were not welcomed home with open arms, nor were they treated with the respect all veterans deserve. This alone created a challenge for me to overcome the feeling of not belonging, of self-worth and even embarrassment. Whilst I have sought and received help through DVA, it has really, only been over the last 5 years or so that the final demons have been put to rest.

I owe a huge part of that to the weekly sessions of pilates and coffee. The safe environment that Bec Sedgman has created at her Studio 4 in Coolangatta and the respect and support she gives to each of us as individuals and as a team is nothing short amazing. Also, being able to open up to fellow ex-servicemen who have ‘been there and done that’ too, has been healing.

Professionally, I had mentioned that I was restless and unsettled soon after I returned from active service in Vietnam. It was not until I started with AUSTAR that I really got to fully use some of the skills and knowledge that army training had given me. It was a good challenge but never the less a challenge to weave values like discipline, initiative, integrity, courage and of course, team work into my everyday AUSTAR life.

I guess I was successful as just before I retired the then CEO, John Porter said of me, “you have been the soul and conscience of AUSTAR for over 15 years”

What do you wish the general public were more aware of about Veterans?

I have asked my grandchildren what a Veteran means to them and must admit, I can understand their responses. To them it was those old guys that marched down the street with their chest full of medals on ANZAC Day.

Yep, I love the positive response (partly because I have been one of those old guys) but when asked a little more why they formed that opinion, it was mainly because of what is overwhelmingly and commercially promoted on TV and in the print media once a year, on and leading up to April 25. I do believe there are many adults that would share their view point.

It is almost as if veterans are wheeled out every year like Christmas, Easter of even Halloween. But, a veteran is so much more – a veteran deserves so much more. Not necessarily the ‘over the top’, flag waving, mention at all costs that they have in the USA, but I wish the general public had a wider knowledge of what makes up a veteran of all wars – not just the Rambo moments but enough to offer a level of genuine respect to us without the bells and whistles.

I was surprised when someone once said to me, ‘Thank you for your service’ but unfortunately it felt like it was part of a script rather that from the heart.

I and my coffee friends, hate the thought of having to listen to rehearsed greetings that are meaningless because they aren’t backed with the understanding of what a regular veteran is and what he has, and maybe still is, going through today in defence of this wonderful country.

 

Ken Fountain with his Pilates group of ex-servicemen at Studio 4 which has played an important part in his healing process. 

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