Fortem ambassadors are committed to supporting the wellbeing and mental fitness of first responder families. Our ambassadors share their messages and lived experiences to highlight the importance of building mental fitness and protective factors for long-term health and wellbeing.
TONY ABBOTT AC
The Hon Tony Abbott AC served as Prime Minister of Australia for two years, from 2013 to 2015.
He understands the experience of the first responder community, as he serves as a Deputy Captain with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade and does surf patrols with the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club.
Since 1998, he has convened the Pollie Pedal annual charity bike ride which has raised nearly $7 million. In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed as a Companion in the Order of Australia for his eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister.
Tony served as the member for Warringah in the Australian parliament between 1994 and 2019. Prior to entering parliament, he was a journalist with The Australian, a senior adviser to opposition leader John Hewson, and director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. He has degrees in economics and law from Sydney University and in politics and philosophy from Oxford which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He is a Member of the Australian War Memorial Council, a Director of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, and an advisor to the UK Board of Trade.
Since 1998, he has convened the Pollie Pedal annual charity bike ride which has raised nearly $7 million for organisations such as Soldier On and Carers Australia. He still does surf patrols with the Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club and serves as a Deputy Captain with the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade. In the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed as a Companion in the Order of Australia for his eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister, and through significant contributions to trade, border control, and to the Indigenous community.
He is married to Margaret and they are the parents of three daughters – Louise, Frances and Bridget.
Grant Edwards is passionate about assisting and promoting the great work Fortem does around social connectedness, education and awareness of the impact mental health injuries have on those who place their life on the line to protect our communities, as well as the mental wellbeing of their families and loved ones.
Grant served with the Australian Federal Police for 34 years, is an accomplished sportsperson and strongman competitor, and he holds a Master’s degree in leadership, policy and governance studies.
Grant retired from the Australian Federal Police after 34 years of dedicated service. He has enjoyed a truly diverse career working across all facets of local, national and international policing, and transnational crime. He has held numerous senior multi-jurisdictional roles in Interpol, United Nations and during his deployment to Afghanistan as Mission Commander and Deputy Head of the International Police Coordination Board Afghanistan. During his role as the AFP’s senior officer in Timor-Leste, Grant held the role of Advisor to the Secretary of State for Security within the Government of Timor-Leste and oversaw the international investigation into the attempted assassination attempts of President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. Amongst many other career highlights, Grant established the AFP’s Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team to address crimes of sexual exploitation of woman and children and travelling child sex offenders.
Grant also held positions as the AFP’s international Liaison Officer in Los Angeles and completed a three year posting to Washington DC as the AFP’s most senior officer in the Americas, responsible for all law enforcement engagement with Canada, USA, Mexico, Central and South America.
Grant is an accomplished sportsperson having represented Australia in athletics, bobsleigh, powerlifting and the Scottish Highland Games. He has competed across the world in Strongman events, including the 1999 World’s Strongest Man competition in Malta. He is well known for physically pulling planes, boats and trucks, culminating in a Guinness World Record for single-handedly pulling a 201-tonne steam locomotive in 1997. In 2017, he single-handedly pulled a 178-tonne C-17 US Military Globemaster in the USA to raise awareness for mental health in policing and law enforcement.
Grant holds a Master’s degree in leadership, policy and governance studies through Charles Sturt University, a Bachelor of Arts (Australian National University) and is a graduate of the FBI Law Enforcement Senior Executive Program. He has presented across the globe on identifying and enhancing a unified universal best practice for managing the mental health of police, family and retired members.
He is a passionate advocate in the field of mental health, especially for police, first responders and the emergency services. In 2017, ABC’s Australian Story broadcast his personal lived experience of PTSD. In 2019, Grant published his memoir, The Strong Man.
PAUL FIELD AM
Paul Field AM knows that first responders and their families need further support, both during their career and when transitioning out.
Paul is an author, singer, producer, director and former managing director of The Wiggles. In the Australia Day 2020 Honours List, Paul was appointed as Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the arts, particularly to children’s entertainment, and as a
supporter of charitable endeavours.
Paul has also worked for the Supreme Court, and was the only civilian member of the Investigations Team for the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption in NSW.
He is the author of two books – Confessions of a Crooked Cop (under the pseudonym Sean Padraic), and Gimme Shelter: Stories of Courage, Endurance and Survival from the Frontline and Back Home.
Paul has written at length about first responders, veterans and their families, particularly their struggles in returning to everyday life after service or dealing with the loss of loved ones.
Tara Lal dedicates her time to changing the public narrative around suicide and mental illness, through the integration of research and storytelling. Tara is a senior firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW who joined the service in 2005.
Her passion for supporting the mental health of firefighters evolved partly from her own experiences of growing up in a family deeply impacted by suicide and mental ill health, and partly from witnessing the devastating impact of mental illness and suicide on her colleagues at Fire and Rescue.
Tara is a long-time member of the peer support team and has managed the psychological wellbeing program at Fire and Rescue. She is also the internationally published author of Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders: making peace with grief and suicide, a PhD candidate at the University of New England (focusing on understanding the impact of suicide on firefighters), and a finalist in the Rotary Inspirational Woman of the Year awards.
Tara recently cycled unsupported across Australia, raising money and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
Kate Lord is passionate about supporting Fortem to help family members, partners, children and friends of those living with PTSD, depression and anxiety. Kate’s husband, Grant Edwards, is a decorated former Police Officer with the Australian Federal Police. When Grant returned from his posting in Afghanistan, Kate noticed a huge change in his behaviour.
He isolated himself from Kate and their daughter, threw himself into work, training and medical appointments as he tried to get answers about why his body was failing him. As he turned to self-medicating behaviours and alcohol abuse, Kate believed he had a mental injury, rather than a physical injury, but Grant was not having any part of that suggestion.
Kate spent years searching for the help and support she needed to remain strong and keep their family together. There was nothing available for her, as the partner of a Police Officer with declining mental health, to reach out for support.
When Kate felt like she had no where else to turn she reached out to her sports psychologist, who guided Grant through the next few months and helped him to understand and accept that his body was shutting down in order to force him to stop and take care of his mental health. Grant was later diagnosed with PTSD.
Kate began her career as a primary school PE teacher, while training towards her dream of making the National Rowing Squad. With the help of a sports psychologist, she then transitioned to become a personal trainer and business owner.
Kate shares her story with others who are going through similar challenges, to help them know that the rollercoaster of emotions they may be feeling is normal.
Andy Rhodes dedicates his working life to the wellbeing of first responders, and believes that organisations like Fortem are vital for the mental health of those who serve our communities.
Andy is the Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary, one of 43 forces in England and Wales, with a workforce of 6,000. He is also the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for wellbeing, staff engagement and organisational development.
Andy has worked with experts from across policing and academia and is the service lead for the National Wellbeing Service (NPWS), Oscar Kilo, funded by Government & Public Health England, and servicing a community of over 200,000 law enforcement and fire professionals. The Oscar Kilo program comprises a range of services from line manager and executive leadership training to psychological support. The NPWS team coordinate a fleet of 10 outreach vehicles, which are kitted out with health screening equipment. This represents a vital front end to the service which is highly visible: over 10,000 members of staff have accessed early intervention (physical, psychological and financial) check-ups in the last 12 months. In crisis events, the fleet is used to forward deploy for use in trauma debriefs.
His policing background has been mainly in the uniform and specialist operations disciplines including Counter Terrorism Firearms Command.
For the last five years, Andy has held the position of Professional Community Chair for OD and International Policing in the College of Policing. He was awarded the QPM in 2016 and has an MBA and a Post Graduate Certificate in coaching. He is Chair of CPOSA the Chief Police Officers Staff Association.
Andy is COVID-19 national police lead for testing and personal protective equipment as well as HR policy.
Andy is currently preparing his doctoral research study, which will focus on wellbeing.
Outside of work, Andy has two children and two grandchildren, and is married to Helen, a psychotherapist who specialises in drug and alcohol recovery. Andy has developed a passion for the ancient Chinese practice of QiGong, and enjoys competitive triathlons.
Andrew Traver believes that mental health and wellbeing needs to be a major priority for first responders and their families. He speaks publicly about his own mental health experiences – both as an individual and as the leader of a first responder agency – in order to help normalise these conversations.
Andrew is the former Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). NCIS investigates and defeats criminal, foreign intelligence, cyber and terrorist threats to the United States Navy and Marine Corps wherever they operate: ashore, afloat and in cyberspace. Andrew’s global role had him working with many nations in addition to the US, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Colombia, England, Italy, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore and Germany.
Importantly, he implemented a peer-support program to help agents deal with trauma and mental health issues.
Andrew now works in MSU’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Ben has served as a volunteer firefighter for nearly 25 years, and currently volunteers as a Group Captain with The Hills district in Sydney. He is a husband and father, serves the country as an Army Officer and the community as a volunteer firefighter, as well as co-founder in a company ‘Bushfire Risk Assessments’.
He believes there are two elements to the health of our first responders, mental and physical – both work in unison and need to be in balance. He also recognises the importance of supporting family of first responders, knowing that those at home are often under pressure too.
As a young man growing up on the urban rural fringe, Ben lived through two devastating bushfires, one that took the lives of his neighbours and one that destroyed his family home. Last fire season he led hundreds of firefighters on the most hazardous firegrounds in NSW.
Ben has been an Army Officer for 20 years and he is most proud of his service leading Australian soldiers in combat. With 5 operational tours and multiple leadership appointments it is clear that he understands what it takes to work in high stress and high tempo environments.
“…whether on the battlefield or the fireground, I attribute my resilience to preparation, training, my family and mentors.”
“It is important to remember that not just the person in harm’s way needs to be resilient, those at home are often under more pressure and stress. I regularly check in with my wife and kids.” Last fire season after a particularly difficult couple of hours and close calls at the Gospers Mountain Fire, Ben rang home, he says “it was as much for me as it was for them. There might be one person in harm’s way but there are an unknown number of family and friends supporting them.”
When asked to support Fortem, Ben said “…supporting the great work at Fortem is a no brainer. Education, awareness and connectedness for our frontline emergency service personnel is how Australia will remain strong and resilient, Fortem is the link we have been missing. First Responders have similar experiences and sometimes we don’t know that the burden we carry is carried by many. It is as easy as having a conversation, and the events and services Fortem provide are going to make Australia’s emergency service personnel stronger and therefore more capable!”
Ben is co-founder of the company, Bushfire Risk Assessments. “Our vision is to create awareness and understanding of the risks associated with living in the bush.”
“I am tired of hearing… I didn’t think it could happen here. Many Australians move to areas or communities with increased likelihood of a natural disaster, and they simply don’t know it. I am hoping to create a company that makes it easy and quick for people to understand the risk before buying a house, much the same way as a pest or building inspection. Individuals moving to an area with insight and understanding, helps create ownership of risk and hence build more resilient communities. So many homes in bushfire prone land are not built to current standards, and it is important that people are aware of the hidden expenses involved to make their home safer. Lessening the burden of bushfires and the risk to the community is an important step in helping our first responders protect us”.
Ben’s proud to live a life of community service and is committed to supporting Fortem make the emergency service team stronger.