Sometimes it’s best not to soldier on, says war vet

As an officer in the Australian army, Anthony Krupa was living his dream.

He spent his days serving his country and helping make a difference in communities around the world.

But one day, he hit rock bottom.

On August 9, 2012, Krupa had a mental breakdown. Eighteen years of placing himself in life-threatening situations had finally caught up with him.

On the recommendation of army doctors, Krupa spent almost two months in the Austin Repatriation Hospital in Heidelberg West.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

“I had bottled it up all my life,” Krupa says.

“I would be driving along, looking in the rear-vision mirror, going under bridges looking to see if there was anyone waiting on higher ground, taking aim.

‘‘I’d be in shopping centres, being very careful where I would walk, with my back to the wall. I was having nightmares at night, waking up and thinking I was back there.

“I went from being a very strong, very fit, very determined person to having nothing.”

Krupa joined the Royal Military College at 18, graduating as a lieutenant at 20. He served on 11 operations, travelling to Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite being a logistics officer, Krupa was involved in a fair bit of combat. Over the years he injured various parts of his body, including his back, shoulder and wrist. But Krupa says the psychological injuries were the worst. “Of the 40 soldiers killed in action throughout Afghanistan, I was there four times.

“One time I was very close to the action in Tarin Kowt. Other times I was in charge of the repatriation.”

Krupa was medically discharged from the army and left to rebuild his life at age 36. He was made aware of the Soldier On Foundation, an organisation set up as an alternative to the RSL to help younger veterans cope with the experiences of war.

The foundation helped him through “a really hard time”, giving him the opportunity to share his story with St Kilda Football Club players and to travel to Canada to spend a weekend with wounded soldiers from Canada, America, Britain and Australia.

The organisation also put him in touch with the Wyndham Future Leaders Program, through which 18 high school students are raising money for the community and training to walk the Kokoda Track in April.

Krupa is mentoring the students, advising them on the physical and mental challenges they will encounter on the trek.

To help them out, and give back to Soldier On, Krupa is organising a gala night in Point Cook on March 15.

The event at The Brook on Sneydes will include performances from the Royal Australian Air Force jazz band and comedian Lehmo, plus silent auctions. Tickets cost $150 and include a three-course meal and drinks.