July 23, 2016
ON the second-last day of 2013, a stranger arrived in Saranac Lake, a 5400-person mountain town 112km shy of the Canadian border.Since 2000, data suggests nearly three times as many active Australian soldiers and nearly five times as many veterans have committed suicide as have died in Afghanistan. But before Paul, almost none had been nationally recognised.
Set amid the patchwork of forest preserves and villages, Saranac Lake is the “Capital of the Adirondacks”, a one-time best small town of New York, and the place where I’m from.
He was a 31-year-old infantry captain in the Australian Army who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan two years before. He arrived on the one bus that comes each day: an Adirondack Trailways coach that chugs slowly uphill from Albany.
To get to Albany, he’d travelled more than 17,000km. He was good looking – wholesome and tidy, with intelligent eyes. He’d been a battle captain in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province, near Kandahar, working as part of Mentoring Task Force 3 with about 700 other Townsville soldiers. But he had a medical review coming up and, his family would later tell the police, he feared he might be discharged.
On New Year’s Eve, he bought a shovel and a blanket at the shopping plaza and set off on foot towards Lake Placid.
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