Vet­er­ans in­vited to seek So­lace in syl­van re­treat

Af­ter the hor­rors of war, many ser­vice­men and women find them­selves fac­ing an­other bat­tle: post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. But a pi­o­neer­ing ex­per­i­ment is be­ing launched in Fife invit­ing stressed sol­diers from The Black Watch and other Scot­tish bat­tal­ions

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - News Special - Michael Alexan­der re­ports.

“The aim of the project is to sup­port well­be­ing

of vet­er­ans by in­tro­duc­ing them to spend­ing time in and work­ing

with na­ture.”

Anne-line Uss­ing

WHEN 140 US sol­diers stormed the Bakara Mar­ket in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia, in Oc­to­ber 1993 to cap­ture two lieu­tenants in the ser­vice of a lo­cal war­lord, what should have been a sim­ple search and cap­ture op­er­a­tion last­ing un­der an hour, turned into a hellish bat­tle in a for­eign city that didn’t end un­til the fol­low­ing morn­ing, when the troops were fi­nally evac­u­ated.

The US army suf­fered its heav­i­est losses since the Viet­nam War.

As a war film, Ri­d­ley Scott’s Black Hawk Down brought home the adrenalin r ush of mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal war­fare, pil­ing on the fire-fights, he­li­copter crashes, and bloody car­nage.

But for South African­born Bri­tish cit­i­zen Stu­art Press, who served as a ma­jor in the Aus­tralian De­fence Force, the film brought back hor­rific mem­o­ries.

In So­ma­lia, at a time when famine and civil war had gripped the coun­try, re­sult­ing in over 300,000 civil­ian deaths he was part of a group giv­ing close pro­tec­tion to UN work­ers.

He was also tasked with clear­ing thou­sands of bod­ies from the roads which were of­ten driven over due to their num­ber.

It wasn’t so much the blood and guts that got to him but the or­phaned, feral chil­dren run­ning wild with packs of dogs, whose only chance of sur­vival was to eat the de­cay­ing re­mains of mas­sa­cred vil­lagers.

Ma­jor Press also spent a year in Rwanda where he was highly dec­o­rated in the af­ter­math of the 1994 Rwan­dan geno­cide when an es­ti­mated 800,000 in the small east African na­tion were mas­sa­cred.

Af­ter 25 years in the mil­i­tary, he went on to en­joy a re­ward­ing ca­reer with the UN in south­ern Africa.

But around 10 years af­ter Rwanda, the hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ences caught up with him.

He suf­fered se­vere de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and had vi­o­lent out­bursts.

In short, he was suf­fer­ing from post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

He and his Dan­ish jour­nal­ist wife An­neline Uss­ing be­lieve that if it wasn’t for the time he has been able to spend on his own in na­ture work­ing on their or­ganic farm in Den­mark, they would prob­a­bly not still be to­gether as a fam­ily.

But now Anne-line (41) and Stu­art (52) — who have three chil­dren aged nine, seven and two — would like other vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies to be given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties, and they are now work­ing with Falk­land Es­tate in Fife to pro­vide Scot­tish vet­er­ans with the op­por­tu­nity to work in and with na­ture.

Anne- line told The Courier: “In De­cem­ber 2010 I was in­vited to a meet­ing at Clarence House be­cause I was in­volved in the set­ting up of a ‘care farm­ing’ project in Den­mark.

“It caught the eye of Prince Charles who is the head of Combat Stress and through that came con­tact with Ninian Crich­ton Stu­art at the Falk­land Cen­tre for Stew­ard­ship.

“We have been over here for one and a half months now look­ing at how we can set up the wood train­ing skills pi­lot project at Falk­land Es­tate.

“The aim of the project is to sup­port well­be­ing of vet­er­ans by in­tro­duc­ing them to spend­ing time in and work­ing with na­ture; to en­cour­age learn­ing of new skills for vet­er­ans here un­der hut build­ing; to lay the foun­da­tions for a longer term re­la­tion­ship with vet­er­ans in the For­est of Falk­land and to cre­ate foun­da­tions of a site in the woods that can be used for fu­ture pro­grammes.

“Apart from these listed aims of the pi­lot, it will also as­sist the in­volved par­ties in es­tab­lish­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of a larger scale project, Na­ture Re­treats for Vet­er­ans, in­volv­ing all of Scot­land which aids vet­er­ans to re­ha­bil­i­tate and rein­te­grate by in­tro­duc­ing vet­er­ans to na­ture as a safe place to recre­ate and re­ha­bil­i­tate.”

She con­tin­ued: “In a very con­crete way we are invit­ing up to 12 vet­er­ans to par­tic­i­pate in the pi­lot project in June to set up a base camp while so­cial­is­ing and shar­ing their ideas on the is­sue thus con­tribut­ing to

the re­al­i­sa­tion of the big­ger vi­sion.

Four will be given a five-day chain­saw cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course that they will be able to use at Falk­land Es­tate and else­where in the fu­ture.

“Per­son­ally I would like to ap­peal to wives and girl­friends of vet­er­ans like my­self to get in touch so we can help give both them and their men a break.”

Ninian Crich­ton Stu­art, the Hered­i­tary Keeper of Falk­land Palace and co-founder of Falk­land Cen­tre for Stew­ard­ship, said the pi­lot project was sup­ported by a small grant from the Big Lot­tery’s Awards for All that will pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for vet­er­ans who wish to work in the woods, in a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment, learn­ing about na­ture and for­est cul­ture.

He added: “This is a new ven­ture for us — but feels like a nat­u­ral step to pro­vide ac­tiv­i­ties for vet­er­ans in a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment and for them to help look af­ter the wood­lands, learn new skills and per­haps re­con­nect with peo­ple and with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment — with all its heal­ing and in­spir­ing qual­i­ties.”

For more in­for­ma­tion email info@ cen­tre­forstew­ard­ship.org.uk.

Picture: PA.

A sol­dier of B com­pany, Worces­ter and Sher­wood For­est reg­i­ment, tak­ing part in an op­er­a­tion in Hel­mand prov­ince, south­ern Afghanista­n.

Pic­tures: AP and PA.

Rwan­dan refugee chil­dren plead with Zairian sol­diers to let them cross a bridge to re­join their mothers who had crossed the bridge mo­ments be­fore the sol­diers closed the bor­der, in Bukavu, Zaire on Au­gust 20 1994. For years, ma­jor­ity Hu­tus and mi­nor­ity...

Picture: Dave Scott.

Stu­art Press and Anne-line Uss­ing at the Falk­land Es­tate.

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