Axons Unleashed E24: Healing From PTSD & Trauma with Weston 'H' Hennessey

Welcome to another great episode of Axons Unleashed with special guest Weston H Hennessey from Seven Horses Co.

For the second part of our conversation with 2 Commando veteran Weston “H” Hennessey, we delve deeper into the moments of a SOCOMD member that changes a life. Robbie, Dave and Adam share their stories with H regarding 9/11, transitioning from the ADF, as well as dealing with the PTSD & trauma of service.

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Episode Transcription 

Speaker 1:

Axons Unleashed.

H:

So ladies and gents, here we are. I’m just taking over from Robbie Turner. We’ve got a bit of in-play coming in.

Robbie:

Yo, welcome Axons Unleashed, you fucking know it. Woo-hoo.

Simo:

Coming at you raw and wild.

Robbie:

All right. Let’s just keep rolling. Let’s just keep rolling. This is part two.

H:

That’s-

Simo:

[crosstalk 00:00:30].

H:

That’s basically what happens when Robbie just showed me some buttons on the keyboard. Hang on a second. I want silence.

Robbie:

Love it.

H:

Thanks.

Robbie:

Luckily, when bloody people are watching us, they won’t be pressing this one. All right. Hey, mate, I loved the first part of the podcast there. It was so … As I said to you just in a little intermission we had, I’ve loved learning about your personality, your background, why you joined the military and, like you would agree, some never-before-heard stories about you.

Robbie:

So I’m really glad that our listeners are getting to know the man, the myth, the legend coming to you from live and [inaudible 00:01:09] from here at Downtown Surfers Paradise. Right. So we’re in 1998, you’ve got through commander selection. I spoke a heap about that during my podcast and, I guess, is there any points you want to bring on about that and what was-

H:

No. I mean, when I say no, I mean the selection course, I get asked a lot of questions about it, so feel free to send me a DM about it. There are people out there who are now making a living on … And no pun intended there, but they’ve got professional guidance packages and stuff and also, there’s a lot online.

H:

Or I will say that if you are particularly interested, to start is to start. So I get frustrated, people who proliferate about when they should do it and what they should do. If you want to give it a fucking crack, train, give it a crack, get online, speak to the appropriate people about it or whatever.

H:

Certainly, if you run into a problem or anything like that about it on any of the selection courses, then you want to have a chat, then reach out to someone through their … whether it’s myself or someone else, I don’t care, but reach out to them in the media and hopefully, we can help you steer you on your right path. But other than that, it’s really just fucking doing it, you know?

Robbie:

Yeah. I mean, you and I saw many, many commander selection courses go as we were bouncing up and down through the ranks there. I guess the bit of tip that I would pass on is like look after yourself while you’re training, don’t start the course with a niggly injury because it will be exposed very, very quickly and then you’ll find yourself up shit creek, and then you’re all the way back to square one, so take care of yourself while you’re training.

Robbie:

So mate, you finished your commander training and then what happened? What was the next major milestone that you can remember there as we speak about your time down at Holsworthy for about 20 minutes? We’re going to talk about 15 years in 20 minutes. Give us the highlights, mate.

H:

Yeah. Well, I think the next thing that’s happened was specialist courses, so even more courses after you finish the selection course. I think I did a fair few of them, but one that I really enjoyed doing was the climbing course where we went down the Arapiles.

H:

We climbed down there for, I think, two or three weeks. And again, for the listeners, just to quickly quantify, when I say climb, we’re talking the level that we go to on that course is lead climbing, so leading up a unclimbed climb.

Robbie:

Like a fucking yama [crosstalk 00:03:33].

H:

Yeah, and putting the protection stuff in, and we have to do that with body armor on, armed, as in, with a … We didn’t carry a full, as in a normal weapon. We just carried a small MP5 or something like a small [crosstalk 00:03:47]-

Robbie:

So this is not like adventure training. This is tactical war zone sort of stuff.

H:

And that’s my point I’m making. I mean, we have to do that by night on night vision goggles. That’s your terminal climb. And I’ll tell you what, I mean, I watch some of these-

Robbie:

Fuck.

H:

… sport climbers out there and I’m seeing everyone, seeing people climb and you see now the … What’s the climbing where they race you see in the Olympics? That is sport climbing, is it?

Simo:

I’m not sure what it’s called but [crosstalk 00:04:08]-

H:

[crosstalk 00:04:08]-

Robbie:

Fucking fast climbing.

Simo:

[crosstalk 00:04:10].

H:

Yeah, fucking horrific thing where they’d climb like 20 meters. What you got to understand is all those climbs are top revved, and what that means is if you fall, you fall back a certain distance. But basically, your safety is assured the whole time, whereas when you are lead climbing, you’re putting in your protection and if at any stage, you fall, you fall back to that last piece of protection you put in.

H:

Over night-time, putting protection in with the era, as in the generation of goggles that we had back then being the Fidelity and everything that provide this fucking horrific-

Robbie:

Fucking terrible.

H:

So the short story was I was on my terminal climb and I’d finished one already that night, or whatever it was, or the night before and I was onto another one, and I remember I just burnt out. I was on a double pitch, which means most reps are 50 meters. So after you’ve climbed that, you’ve got to then reset up another point and climb again. So it means you’re climbing up over 100 meters.

H:

Anyway, I remember doing the second part and my hand just pumps and I couldn’t see, the night vision goggles were fogging up, I was getting extremely fatigued and I’ve been climbing non-stop now for three weeks. You’ve got all the little bits of plaster and stuff on your hands, holding your fingers together and whatnot.

H:

I just remember going, “Fuck it. The only way I’m going to get out of here now is to just fucking climb, like I am not stopping, I’m not putting any protection in or whatever.” And so I did that for … I don’t know. It was another couple of bounds, it’s another several meters and basically didn’t come off and I fell.

H:

But there was a little rock ledge there that caught me, otherwise, and I’m not saying this in morbid terms, but the reality is I would’ve fucking died for sure because I would’ve fell-

Robbie:

Too far.

H:

Yeah. And plus, the stress factor on those pieces of protection, then they could start pull out obviously the higher the fall is, etc., anyway. But that was probably not maybe my next highlight, but I fell and I broke by coccyx.

H:

I remember lying there on the ledge, and this is probably when I was like, “Yeah, right. Out of all the things you’ve been through and all the training you’ve done, you’re not actually in the fucking big boys pool.” Because I was on the radio and they were like, “H, what do you want to do?”

H:

“We’d have to wait and hour or so to get a chopper to get you off that ledge or whatever,” and I just remember lying there and I was in a fuck deal of pain. I broke my coccyx, took my coccyx off and I looked up and I had like, I don’t know, 30, 40 meters or something to the top.

H:

And I said, “Yeah, leave it with me. I’m going to climb out,” and they were like, “You’ll be all right?” and I was like, “I’ll climb out,” and I just fucking climbed the rest of the way noting that I’d already fall, but no pro, I never put a single fucking protection, which I’m not bragging about. It’s not smart.

H:

It was basically a one-way death mission if I fell from then. But I was like the only way I was going to get out there was climbing. I remember coming down off that mountain, hobbling back down because you can walk down a much gentler slope, you know what I mean, of the opposite sides.

H:

I remember coming back down the bottom. The boys were just standing there. They’re just like fucking just looking at each other and shaking each other’s head. Yeah.

Robbie:

How? Yeah.

H:

And I was just like, “Well,” with just a bit of shoulder shrug. But I remember looking back at that time and that moment just going like, “This is the fucking real deal, as in, you can lie around here and … But no, you’ve done selection, you’ve done all these things,” and that’s what I used to say to guys.

H:

I was actually the wing sergeant major on the selection course for these. And I’d say, “Mate, the selection course, you’re going there absolutely fucked and about as fit [inaudible 00:07:26].” I’m like, “Mate, this is the easiest fucking thing you’re going to do.”

H:

As far as being in the unit and all the operations and everyone who you’re inviting up the table is fucking nodding. But [crosstalk 00:07:37]-

Robbie:

You’re not facing any real danger. Just you’re in a controlled environment, you’re just doing selection.

H:

I’m like, “This is the easiest fucking thing you can do because after that [crosstalk 00:07:45]-“

Simo:

At that time and in that moment, it feels as though it is the toughest and the hardest thing.

Robbie:

Of course.

Simo:

And having that realization and that mindset, unfortunately, they don’t tell you that beforehand, or they don’t necessarily teach you. They run it as though this is the hardest. But when you get out there, yeah, very relevant.

Robbie:

Hey, tell me, when 9/11 happened, where were you? What were your thoughts?

H:

9/11, I was standing in the mess hall in Timor, and I’d just grabbed the food. I can’t remember. We had just come back from some patrol. I remember sitting there and going just looking at the TV screen with a feeling that it was surreal, and you just had to watch it.

H:

And anyone listening will remember it was on repeat, all those different images, and you just … I think you literally needed to sit there and see it so many times like a fucking hour to go like, “Fuck,” for it to actually sink in. Then I remember even then driving back because it was up at whatever the headquarters was. I can’t remember.

Robbie:

[Balibo 00:08:44] or something.

H:

Balibo, yeah, and then we’re up about an hour, and I remember it had been a couple hour drive home or whatever it was. I remember driving back to the base, as in where Bravo Company was, and it was just this feeling I really can’t describe.

H:

But one thing I knew, and I mean this in the most respectful way I can say it, but I’ll fucking tell you now, I don’t want to ever lie, I did sit there and think like, “Right, because now, we are fucking on.” I didn’t know what was going to be unleashed in the world. I didn’t know how it was going to play out.

H:

But I knew that I was going to get my fucking war, and that’s what I wanted. I just wanted to get heavily involved … I always used to look at that Vietnam era and then … Because when I joined, there was a lot of post-Vietnam era personalities, the senior guys in amongst the ranks.

H:

That’s what I refer to, our war is in. Right or wrong, I’m not getting into the politics, I’m not getting into the type of conflict, I’m not getting into fucking any of that. But for the soldiers who are serving, the soldiers, sailors and airmen who were serving in the Australian Defense Force at that time, and as I try and explain to people, most of those people, and I understand there were conscripts back then, most of those people want to serve. They want to deploy.

H:

Doing an operation is what they’ve joined for. So for me, sitting there after that happened, it most certainly sunk in the full weight of it all as in, “Holy … This is a horrific thing.” But I fucking knew right then and there that not only this is going to change the world. This is going to 100% change my life.

H:

Then ironically, it was like [inaudible 00:10:31], that was September obviously. I think it was about eight weeks later and they’d already made decisions about raiding the extra counter-terrorism capability, and then there was a heap of us got interviewed whilst in Timor.

H:

And then I got pulled home early from East Timor after being away six months. I think I was given a week or two at home. And then there was 35 of us, I believe if my memory serves me correctly, in the initial group of the handpicked two commando guys who were sent to then SASR to then go through a screening process.

H:

And then they sent over a couple more groups so who all had different stages of experience and training and stuff, and then that was the formation of the tactical assault group B.

Robbie:

That’s when the government said, “All right. We can’t just have a tactical assault group sitting over in Perth. We need one sitting over in the eastern seaboard.” So it’s a cool story,…

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