War veteran hopes trek through Norway will inspire others to overcome injury and illness

by Jack Barden January 11, 2017

 

 

A young war veteran is hoping to inspire others to overcome their physical and mental scars by leading a trek across Norway.

Jack Barden will spend five months walking more than 3,000 kilometres through snow and mountainous terrain from the northern tip of Norway to the southern tip.

It is a major turnaround for Mr Barden, who could barely walk three years ago following a serious back injury and then battled substance abuse after being medically discharged from the Army.

The 26-year-old wants to show other veterans they too can overcome significant problems.

"We want to change the mindset that veterans have towards injury and illness. Instead of seeing it as a setback they get to see it as an opportunity for self-progression and growth," Mr Barden told 7.30.

"This trip will push me physically and mentally because I had a spinal fusion in January 2015, and I wanted to challenge myself to say that my spinal fusion wasn't a setback."

By his side will be fellow Afghanistan veteran Robert Layton, who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after his patrol vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.

The trek aims to raise $200,000 for the charity Mates4Mates to provide support for veterans and their families.

'I had a lot of anger issues'

Jack Barden - Afghanistan

 

Mr Barden had a six-month tour of Afghanistan as a driver with the 6RAR Infantry Battalion in 2012.

He was relishing the experience until three Australian soldiers, including his close mate Private Robert Poate, were murdered by a rogue Afghan soldier in what is known as a green on blue attack.

"The [Australian] boys were playing a game of poker and an Afghan national army soldier dropped a magazine into them and then he jumped the fence and ran off," Mr Barden said.

"I saw the boys in tears and when they said it was Poatey, it just broke me.

"Survivor's guilt was one thing that played on my mind. I did the, 'What if?' scenario a lot in my head because if we did stay there at patrol base that night, what if we could have prevented it?"

Mr Barden does not want other veterans to slip between the cracks like he almost did.

"When I came back from overseas I had a lot of anger issues and it did push my family away," he said.

"I'd be at dinner with my family and I'd sit there and zone out and just play these scenarios in my head, [about] people coming into the building and shooting it up and I would think, how do I kill them?

"It came to a point where my family were ringing up the military asking what to do."

'Focus on all the things you can do in your life'

Jack Barden - Hospital

 

It was not just painful memories Mr Barden had to overcome on his return to Australia. He was also struggling with back pain caused by the rigours of military service.

"I was the fittest I had ever been when I returned home from Afghanistan, then to go from that to not being able to stand for five minutes and not being able to walk 100 metres," he said.

"I had a degenerated, protruding, torn and leaking disc, I had constant chronic pain down both my legs and my nerve was pinching multiple times a day and I would lose all strength in my right leg and I'd fall over."

He felt useless and began drinking heavily to black out. 

His mother found it hard to watch.

"Jack was very angry, he wasn't himself and he was self-destructing and it broke our heart," Bernadette Barden said.

"He'd come over for weekends and just drink and he was bloated and he didn't look like himself and he was depressed.

"You could see the sadness, you could see the hurt and it was hard to talk to him because he was a closed book."

Jack Barden - Medical clearance to go

 

Mr Barden has managed to shake his substance abuse and, following back surgery, has regained close to full movement.

He has received medical clearance to take on Norway and cannot wait to feel the aches and pains of the expedition.

But Mr Barden wants the trip to be about more than him.

"This trek is to show other veterans if you focus on all the things you can do in life, you can do anything, you can succeed in anything."

His mother said he was already reaching veterans battling similar demons.

"I'm just so proud of Jack. He's told me stories about people who haven't left home for years and they came out to see him at a fundraiser.

"People ringing him up and telling Jack their story. It's begun and it's only getting bigger."




Jack Barden
Jack Barden

Author

Jack Barden, 26 years old, born and raised in Griffith NSW. Travelled much of Australia with my family when I was growing up. Joined the Army at age 19 which lead to my addiction of travelling overseas.



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