Salina Parton is all too familiar with life inside the Australian Defence Force (ADF), life outside of the ADF and life as a service spouse.
It’s with these lived experiences and a passion for the veteran community that she recently joined RSL Victoria as the RSL Active Program and Events Officer.
“As an ex-serving ADF member, current ADF spouse of 25 years and someone who has consistently given their time volunteering and working to support the ADF community, I am well placed to understand the unique experiences of ADF life and the challenges that may be encountered,” she says.
In her role, which she describes as an “overwhelming privilege,” Salina facilitates opportunities through the RSL Active program, to support veterans and their families to improve physical and mental health wellbeing outcomes.
Her desire to give back and support others is driven by a personal life-changing chapter and as a result, a place of immense gratitude.
"In 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer while living interstate for a RSL Defence Care supported my family during this difficult time, for which we were most grateful."
Her connection to the service world began after a visit to her high school by Defence Force recruiting.
“I thought it might be a nice idea to join the army. I grew up in a very small village in the Dandenong Ranges. So, joining the army seemed like an exciting thing to do at the time. I joined up as a general entry soldier shortly after my 17th birthday in 1996.”
Coming from a strict European family, life in the ADF was an eye opener, and presented Salina with a mix bag of experiences.
"The culture shock of ADF life, the swearing, adjusting to living out of home, forming some fantastic friendships, time in hospital with glandular fever - which extended my stay at Kapooka by a month, enjoying the variety of learning experiences and physical challenges, suffering a dental injury after a smack to the mouth with a rifle and the whole platoon being quarantined after a meningococcal disease outbreak."
Salina put her hand up to undergo aptitude testing for Signals Operator Electronic Warfare. She was offered one of five jobs available and at the completion of basic training was off to what was known then as Joint Telecommunications School in Cabarlah, Queensland.
Posted to what is now known as the Australian Signals Directorate to support troops on foreign deployment. With most of her work there classified, she’s unable to share too much.
As her career progressed, she undertook professional development in other languages and greater opportunities presented themselves.
It was towards the end of this three-year posting to Canberra that Salina came to the decision to discharge from service. She says she experienced harassment during her service, which was ultimately a determining factor in cutting her military career short.
Around the same time though, she met her husband of 20 years and began a life as a Defence spouse.
"The majority of our postings have been to Cabarlah, Canberra and Melbourne. As a family, we have so far lived in three states, 13 homes, our eldest two children have attended six schools and we’ve met many wonderful people from all walks of life."
“The majority of our postings have been to Cabarlah, Canberra and Melbourne. As a family, we have so far lived in three states, 13 homes, our eldest two children have attended six schools and we’ve met many wonderful people from all walks of life.”
These wonderful people formed the much-needed networks for Salina and her family in times of need, proving to be godsends, as she describes them during times of deployment when her husband was away from home.
“I'll always remember when my husband deployed to East Timor, the TV stopped working the next day. The fridge died in the following week as did the clothes dryer. This is where ADF families do it best. A defence spouse three doors down wheeled her spare fridge down to my house. Another friend took me to purchase a new dryer.”
In 2015, Salina and her family were set to return to Melbourne when their posting location changed six weeks out from the move.
“School fees had already been paid for their new school, uniforms had already been purchased, and a house had been locked in with Defence Housing Australia. A posting on promotion had been offered and with our newest and final addition to the family we were off to Canberra.”
Managing her parents’ disappointment to the news was challenging.
"My attitude to ADF life had become far more relaxed and accepting of change, but there are a lot of life’s moments that are missed when posting around the country away from family – birthday celebrations, anniversaries, get togethers, cups of tea with Nan, family barbeques and sometimes Christmas."
Her cancer diagnosis in early 2017 prompted the application of a compassionate posting to be near family in Melbourne, which was finally granted in October that year.
“All we wanted was to be near family, to help with the day-to-day care of our children whilst I was unwell. It was during this time that I was personally supported by RSL Defence care, this cemented the desire to one day support Veterans and ADF families myself.”
Through a rigorous treatment plan, Salina regained her strength and health and wasted no time in getting involved in various roles supporting the defence community.
As someone who has walked in the shoes of service, and as a current ADF spouse for over two decades, Salina has learned the importance of relinquishing control and making the best of situations.
“It’s not an easy life, and it’s not for everyone. Moving locations is not just a few suburbs over. Building support networks, finding employment, finding new medical practitioners, and all the services that we require in our day-to-day life takes time, money, and effort.”
As a result, Salina is passionate about veteran support and says the variety of services that ex-service organisations provide are invaluable to veterans and their families.
“From my personal experience, these supports have directly and positively impacted my and my family’s overall quality of life.”
Salina’s time with RSL Active so far may be short, but her impact has been extensive. One of her highlights has been overseeing the program's growth and uptake at more of the regional RSL Sub-Branches. As a result, it has given hundreds of more veterans and their families the opportunity to participate, helping to improve their physical and mental health wellbeing outcomes.
"It is having such a positive impact in each of those communities. I thoroughly enjoy delivering the RSL Active program and getting to know Veterans and their family members as we participate in some amazing activities."