MAKING AN IMPACT: RSL RAEMUS Rover Off-Road Racing managing director Ian Baker at the Karalee workshop.
MAKING AN IMPACT: RSL RAEMUS Rover Off-Road Racing managing director Ian Baker at the Karalee workshop. Rob Williams

'Broken' veterans on road to recovery due to off-road racing

MILITARY personnel undertake the highest adrenaline-pumping job there is.

So when they return to the humdrum of civilian life it's a difficult transition, especially if they come home with serious physical or mental afflictions.

An Ipswich-based charity has helped close to 500 "broken" veterans with their rehabilitation through a program that uses "high adrenaline pain management".

The RSL RAEMUS Rover Off-Road Racing Team was resurrected by managing director Ian Baker in 2012.

It was formed in the 1970s by staff from the Puckapunyal Military Area in Victoria.

The original RAEMUS Rover spent years gathering dust in storage and he stepped in to save it from being scrapped.

Mr Baker understood that the "hand-holding" phase of rehab did not always work and decided to take a different tack. He found instant results when taking a trio of veterans for a high speed ride in the race car.

One had been shot in the head, another was dealing with the fallout from an operation where multiple people had died and the other had been blown up three times by IEDs.

Before they jumped into the car, they stuck together in a close-knit group and barely spoke more than a word to anyone else.

The car jolted them into opening up and finding help.

"From that point we knew what that race car was going to do... it worked," Mr Baker said.

The four-car team operates out of workshops in Karalee and Brightview and a space at the Ipswich Motorsport Precinct thanks to an agreement with Ipswich City Council.

But they are looking for a place to call their own. The space at Willowbank would be ideal if they could secure a two or three-year lease to give them more freedom. They are also looking for sponsors to secure a permanent home.

The RAEMUS team uses off-road racing to rehabilitate ill or injured veterans while taking on the biggest races in the country.

"It's a unique program because we don't mollycoddle," Mr Baker said.

"The reason why the program works is because everyone who is a core member of the team has been there, done that, is injured or has been dealing with PTSD. We can talk the talk and walk the walk.

"The results we're getting... there is more demand than we can service. The cars are the bait to bring them in and the stimulus to be able to get them into the positive frame of mind for us to then talk about what the real challenges are."

Mr Baker said veterans from across Australia had come through the program and they had strong links with groups in America and the UK.

"It works because it provides something that is key to them being able to connect and trust so we can then provide the right guidance and commentary," he said.

"If we say that straight up off the street they'll tell us to rack off. If we say that after we've pelted them through the bush at 100 mile an hour and they've had their wits scared out of them and they're on a high, they go 'yeah I might do that cause that means I can come back and do this again'.

"We can give you story after story of people right on the edge of giving everything up and because of the influence of what we've done now see life completely differently."

For more visit the RSL RAEMUS Rover Off-Road Racing Team Facebook page.

Families feel impact of program

IT isn't just veterans who feel the direct impact of the RSL RAEMUS Off-Road Racing program.

Managing director Ian Baker said the families of discharged military personnel are "carrying the burden" as well.

"We encourage the spouses to come along and get involved," he said.

"They might need a release to feel better too.

"The changes that happens with the family, spouse or kids when they are at peace, when they feel more confident and knowing where they're going (is huge).

"That conversation starts in the house."

The team makes sure their pit stop at every race is as close as possible to family members so participants can take a step back from the event at any time and talk to those closest to them.

RAEMUS worked to have a ban on dogs overturned in 2016 so service dogs could also be close by.

One veteran was nominated by his wife to get involved.

He used to sleep with his assistance dog between himself and his partner every night.

"After the weekend we did with him, he now puts the dog on the side of the bed and hugs his wife for the first time in three years every night," Mr Baker said.

"That's one of our key messages we have: we know you're broken, we know your brain doesn't work as well as you want it to. You're in a group just like that."