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"You almost feel like you've been used." The little-told story about life after military service.

In her early 20s, Krishell Ennis found herself in search of stability. Like many in that pivotal age, she'd flipped from job to job — nannying in the US, working in a coffee shop, toying with the prospect of teaching, or maybe the police force.

Then at 22, she found it. A career.

Krishell joined the Australian Navy, where she worked as a Communications Information Systems Sailor. It was structure, travel, a fit for her social personality.

But when she chose to leave in 2013 after close to a decade, Krishell found herself once again aimless, left to negotiate the difficult transition back to civilian life without meaningful guidance or support.

Krishell's story is one little told about life in the military. Of all the talk about comradery, in her experience, that ended the moment she chose to discharge.

"You just feel insignificant," she told Mamamia. "You do feel like you're just a number, and you almost feel like you've been used, like 'You did your service, thanks very much. Off you go now.' The connection is cut, the ties are cut."

Listen: The Quicky speaks to two experts, to find out why even veterans who never see combat are left feeling desperate and what services are available to help them.


The transition out of service is notoriously fraught. 

These men and women can find their lives suddenly devoid of the structure, the sense of purpose and the mateship that's defined their time in the armed forces.

For Krishell, it came amid an already trying time in her life. She was experiencing postnatal depression after the birth of her second child and, having recently moved to Western Australia from Sydney, was grappling with feelings of isolation.

"Knowing that I had to go back to sea, I just went, 'Okay, this isn't going to work, things are not right.' So I literally had like a month break, and then made the decision to discharge," she said.

The process was six weeks long, and Krishell said that at no point was she offered information or support about transitioning into the civilian workforce; no referrals to agencies, no career counselling, no contacts for support groups.

"None of that," she said. "It was a case of, 'Alright, here's your folder of your qualifications and see you later.' That's it.

"That was a surprise. I feel like no one actually talks about the struggle of the transition."

As Krishell notes, that wouldn't be unusual for any other workplace. But military jobs are often unique, with skills that don't necessarily translate to the 'real world'. Her role, for example, involved operating various systems that allow communication between naval ships, from morse code to flags and radio.

It took six demoralising months before she secured an interview, and eight before she got a position.

When she started, she wasn't prepared for how different the civilian workplace was, culturally, from that in the Navy.

"It took me a little while to understand that people do just go to work, they work and they leave," she said. "It's not what you get when you're in the military where your colleagues are like your family."

The sudden disconnection was difficult.

Krishell Ennis. Image: Supplied.

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While Krishell wasn't deployed for combat, her ship was involved in international training exercises, refuelling operations and border protection that had her at sea for long stretches, away from her husband and children.

"If you've got girlfriends from high school, you run deep connections. But you're not physically and mentally challenged together [like you are in the Navy]," she said.

"When you live something like that with someone, and you can bounce off of each other for such a long period, the connections are really strong."

Fortunately, Krishell found a service in her new home on the Sunshine Coast, the STEPS Young Veterans Support program, through which a fellow veteran was able to assist her in applying for another qualification.

"Having a person that is also been through what you've been through, it's just amazing," she said. "To have someone be open and honest with you."

She notes that there are many services like this out there be it for employment support like STEPS, or for mental health support and even just social gatherings.

"From veterans motorbike groups to veterans footy clubs, there are so many different veteran communities out there, and so much support available," she said. "Once you start seeking it, just you're overwhelmed with how many people are willing to help."

While Krishell insists her struggles after discharging haven't tainted her feelings toward her time in the Navy, she laments the fact that it's fallen on veterans to plug the gaps in this "broken system" and help themselves.

"There should be some sort of system that helps people connect," she said. "We've got veterans that are helping veterans, because there's no system to support them. And those people have got their own mental health issues.

"So it's really, really hard. But they're doing it anyway, because it can really help people with the transition, help them feel they're not alone."


If you are pregnant or have recently given birth and think you may be suffering from depression, support is available via PANDA. You can find their website here or call their national helpline on 1300 726 306.


Feature image: Supplied.