Rite of Passage

(**This article is a reproduction of the article written by Cat Lindsay, for the ‘Parallel Lives’ section of ‘U Magazine’, inside The Sunday Mail, 26th April 2015**)

James Greenshields has gone from being a leader of soldiers to leading boys on a journey to manhood and self-discovery.

Young Warrior Project

James Greenshields, 40, Burringbar.

I was born in country Victoria and grew up on the southern boundary of Puckapunyal military training area in Australia.

There’s a picture of me aged four standing at the gate with an armoured personnel carrier coming in to the back paddock and parking up there. The next photo on Mum’s wall is me 30 years later, leading that same group in to Iraq.

My first posting after officer training Canberra was back to Puckapunyal, which was the home of the School of the Armoured Corps. That was in 1997. After deployments to the Solomon Islands in 2000 and East Timor in 2001, I was officer commanding B Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based out of Darwin.

I raised the squadron and trained them on a 10 month pre-deployment schedule. We then deployed to Iraq in November 2006, returning home in June 2007.

Everything I did in my career was in line with that goal. The lead up was interesting though – my wife Kirsty and I had a baby girl, Abi, in 2005 and I had moved to Darwin a couple of months after that.

By that stage, I knew I was going to Iraq and started withdrawing inside myself. I didn’t know it consciously, but I was forming an emotional barrier between us and, for that 10 months of pre-deployment, I went to work before sun up and got back after sun down, and I didn’t really connect with my family.

I will say being hit by a roadside bomb was the third best day of my life behind marriage and having two kids, because it made me wake up to my priorities in life.

I’m what you call the benefactor of post-traumatic growth, as opposed to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). You can recover completely.

I can speak to you in infinite detail about the 20kg of explosives, how the detonated under the right-hand side of my vehicle, which is where I was. I’ve still got shrapnel in my elbow. They pulled it out of my head. But I couldn’t talk or hold a conversation for about seven weeks after I got back. It’s an isolating condition where people go inside themselves and disassociate from what’s happening around them.

No one picked it up … But the reason why I recovered is that I took ownership.

My three lessons from this were – personal responsibility, vulnerability is not weakness, and own my shit.

I was hit on April 23, 2007, and when I came back I didn’t now if my wife would still want to be with me and if we would have any more kids.

Then on April 22, 2008 (daughter) Pene came in to the world. I got selected for Australian Command and Staff College, a year long course in Canberra. I did that in 2008 and did exceedingly well … but then there was a night when I was bathing Abi and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I collapsed.

I didn’t know it was post-traumatic stress disorder. I just knew I was in a really bad place.

Kirsty dragged me to an emotional intelligence workshop with a Canberra based organisation – Beyond Success – and I heard this guy talk for three days.

Within a month of doing their course, I knew that my time within the military was over.

Paul Blackburn, the head of the company, asked me to work with him. So I did that for 18 months around Australia. It helped incredibly.

There are two programs – Light The Fire Within, which is for men, and The Young Warrior Project, which began when our girls were at The River School in Maleny. A teacher said ‘We’ve got awesome boys, but there are 50 percent single mums in the class, and they are just crying out for some male role models and mentors’. So I said if you really want to get to the heart of some serious issues we need to help them get in touch with their emotions and connect with who they really are.

The Young Warrior Project is based on the old adage that we’ve lost our ability to train young men in a rite of passage. You can’t just send a warrior to battle. You have to train him.

So the first element of The Young Warrior Project is all about training them to understand that their own capabilities far exceed what their personal mind limits them on, and to connect with their own abilities to be leaders.

We train experientially, so we put them in to situations and then have discussions afterwards that are all directed to draw out these qualities to allow the personal leadership to come out.

Last year, Kirsty and I were invited to the graduation of the older group and as soon as we walked in to the room, the boys all crowded around. Someone said to me “Thank you for giving my son back”.

I don’t give anyone their son back, the son chose to do that, I just hold the space for him to become the man he is.

Find out more about The Young Warrior Project

Billy Schiotz, 13, Maleny

I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and we moved here when I was one (in 2002). I have a brother Tariq, 6. Mum (Cecilie) grew up in Brisbane. She met my dad (Christian) and they got married in Denmark. He passed away when I was seven. I got involved in The Young Warrior Project when I was in Year 6. We did a 2km bush trek and had to pull a trailer full of gear back to the camp, which was really tiring.

I didn’t expect it to be so challenging, mentally and physically. There were about eight of us on the camp. When someone was having a bad time it helped us by helping them and understanding them more. We had this activity where we were all sitting in a circle and I thought about my dad and I started crying and it really affected me. It was probably the best part of the camp even though it was the saddest.

It was just like this big debrief and gave us a chance to say things out loud. The other boys were respectful.

I went on a camp last year as well … it was a lot more physically challenging, but not as much mentally. We were all crying on the trek, just pushing and put shin. James and the guys helped us keep going. They boys also encouraged each other.

The main thing I got out of it was leadership and staying true to myself. I think a bit more positively now.

Find out more about The Young Warrior Project.

2 thoughts on “Rite of Passage

  1. Well done to you James. You are a champion. If I had a teenage boy I would be sending him to do work with you. It would be a most empowering experience. Best of luck as your vision grows. Regards, Margaret Bridgeford

  2. G’day Margaret, Thanks so much for the note. Much appreciated. Trust all is well with you. Cheers, James

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