Photography: Kylie Iva

It wasn’t that long ago that Krystal and Jeremy Brown were bunkered down in Afghanistan with their Army brothers and sisters. These days their family life looks a little different. With three children aged eight and under, their days seem to centre around schools, snack time and sleep schedules.

Even though the couple’s desire to stay connected to the Army remains strong, it’s not always easy to find activities that accommodate the needs of modern veterans with young families.

All that changed almost two years ago on Remembrance Day, when Krystal and Jeremy put on their medals and went to the Cheltenham Moorabbin RSL Sub-Branch to mark the occasion with their comrades.

“It was fantastic, we met so many people, including politicians and the president of the RSL,” Krystal said. “They made us feel welcome, wanted to know our stories and bought us a drink.”

“Later, Jeremy got asked if he would like to talk to Aged Care residents. He said he would absolutely not, but that his wife would love to. He completely dobbed me in.”

It was through volunteering that she learnt about RSL Active, a program designed to connect like-minded veterans and their families. It gives them the opportunity to take part in events focusing on physical, psychological and social engagement. It could be yoga, personal training or even art classes.

“Sometimes at veteran events you can feel like you are the youngest there by about 50 years,” Krystal said. “While I enjoy the chance to chat, what I love about being a part of RSL Active is that I’m connecting with people my age.”

For many veterans, adjusting to life outside the Navy, Army or Air Force can be challenging. Some retreat into their own homes, putting them at risk of becoming lonely, disengaged and physically inactive. The organised activities incentivise veterans and serving members to venture out into a safe, welcoming community, improving their physical and mental health.

While Krystal remains in touch with her Army mates, who she was deployed with in Afghanistan for seven months, RSL Active provides her the opportunity to rekindle old friendships and make new connections with like-minded people living locally.

“When you are in the Army, you can be exposed to a lot more than most people- our reality was that people got shot, were left with physical and mental injuries and some died.

She was lucky to have emerged unscathed and has a supportive husband, and three children to distract her.

Even so, Krystal is relishing the chance to connect with others in a way that suits her young family.

“For instance, I went to indoor rock-climbing and saw a former colleague that I used to work with 15 years ago,” Krystal said.

“Then I went along to a cooking night and I met fellow Army Reservists who were in the same unit, (5/6RVR) and we spent the whole night talking, plus I got to make a Mexican meal.”

When COVID-19 forced people into isolation throughout 2020, RSL Active adapted, connecting people virtually with online yoga, hikes and art classes.