SOULMATES SOLDIER ON
A call to serve others brought them together but despite challenges, currency in the ‘love bank’ is what binds them for the long term
JANICE JOHNSTON, 48 SALISBURY, RETIRED LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, DIRECTOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, MATES4MATES
Dad (Bob Erbacher) came from German stock, smallgoods butchers who settled originally on the Darling Downs, and I grew up on farmland in Rocklea, out on the floodplains. After Salisbury State High School I wanted to go with the boys who were my friends to join the army, but you couldn’t go to the Australian Defence Force Academy and study psychology back then, which is what I wanted to do. So I went to the University of Queensland then joined the army reserves not long after I finished uni.
I was a career reservist, in private practice for 20 years, doing consulting work. I worked in intelligence for the army, training people who were going to work overseas, and was deployed overseas myself several times. We have a one-army policy, so you might work in a reserve unit separate from regular army, but we’re all integrated units. I worked part-time in the army, ending up as Lieutenant-Colonel, running force extraction teams in East Timor and the Middle East.
When we rotate the force, we extract them a bit like extracting a tooth. We check out how they’re travelling psychologically on the ground before we send them home. I had a very blessed career as an army reservist – the opportunities are great.
It gives taxi drivers no end of amusement when they find out (my husband Brian and I are) both psychologists. You know, what do two psychologists talk about? He’s got PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from his service and, I suppose, some days are hard. In some ways it’s easier to treat other people than support the person you love most in the world. The saddest thing for me – and him, too – is he’s not quite how he used to be, but he’s still the man I fell in love with. He’s bright and he’s also a great big hunk of spunk. I think one of those special things about big loves is that the other person completely understands you.
The saddest thing for me – and him, too – is he’s not quite how he used to be, but he’s still the man I fell in love with
BRIAN JOHNSTON, 54 SALISBURY, RETIRED LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, VOLUNTEER PSYCHOLOGIST MATES4MATES
Dad (Patrick) passed away when I was 15 and Mum (Margaret) stayed at home till we were in high school, then became an admin person working with a missionary order. I spent five years in the seminary (at Essendon in Melbourne) training to be a priest. In my first year, my younger sister, Paula – who was about to turn 18 – died in a motor vehicle accident on her way home from visiting me. I wanted to leave but Mum wanted me to stay, so I did, but I knew I was in a rut when the priest in charge asked me why the only thing I attended with any dedication and commitment was rugby.
I went back home to Sydney after that and was a builder’s labourer for a year and got enough money to go to uni to study psychology. I thought I’d give the army a crack and joined up as a direct entry officer at 28. I had a number of postings in Australia, then did a number of force extractions in Afghanistan (specialist teams, including psychologists, assisting troops transitioning from war zones). I met Janice when I was doing officer training and wanted a decent counterpoint to work with me – I was male, regular army, and I wanted someone who was female, a reservist, and who was a successful consultant in the civilian world. We’ve done a lot of work together and she knows that the army is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
She’s a very strong woman, very warm and loving, and she “got” me. She’s really intelligent and being another psychologist means we have many interests in common. We’re both pretty passionate and it can get fiery but fundamentally we love each other deeply, so there’s a lot of currency in the love bank. I know that some days she’s got one too many veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder – she can’t get away from her work when she’s got me. But she saved my life.
Janice and Brian Johnston, both psychologists and retired army officers, now deploy their services at Mates4Mates, a group that helps serving and former Australian Defence Force personnel.