first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram The Taliban had long been entrenched in many areas of the Zabul Province in Afghanistan in 2010. By this stage, the deterioration of security had seen an 82 per cent increase of roadside bomb explosions from the previous year. Attacks killing NATO service members were worst than ever, and young Greek Australian Luke Haitas, aged 24 at the time, entered a war zone serving with the Australian Army.It was a different course to the one he had chartered a few years earlier when he started studying for a Bachelor of Economics. But prior to getting his degree, he realised that business didn’t appeal to him. So instead of a life in finance, he embarked on an adventure.“My 11 years in the full time Army was one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and I have never regretted it,” Haitas told Neos Kosmos.“The friendships, life lessons, experiences, and challenges cannot be replicated anywhere else. I enlisted as a 20-year-old who was still living at home – I really had to grow up and mature quickly!”There were many challenges and rewards in Afghanistan, where Haitas focused on establishing the Afghan School of Artillery and teaching and mentoring instructors and students at the Afghan National Army school of artillery. As lead mentor of his speciality, he taught students who were two ranks above him – veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war. He also taught students who were ex-Mujahedeen, and those of Afghan Government forces who were at least 30 years older than he was.READ MORE: War veterans – Ken Tsirigotis fought in Afghanistan but the groundwork for being an Australian soldier was laid at Syntagma Square Flag Ensign Lieutenant Luke Haitas of Australia’s Federation Guard at the Hellenic-Australian Memorial in Rethymno, Crete. Photo: Corporal (CPL) Janine Fabre“They were also naturally suspicious of yet another group of trainers. The biggest challenge was building trust between us and the ANA,” Haitas said.“I found this very easy, and I attributed this directly to my Greek heritage. I saw similarities between the Afghan and Greek cultures: family is central; religion plays a major part of their social fabric. I was able to find a lot of common ground and invested time in building rapport; by learning about their families; drinking tea together; or hearing their stories. Growing up, spending a lot of time with my grandparents doing the same types of things meant this type of relationship building came very naturally to me. The trust I built with them made my job far easier and we really had a great time working together.”Despite being a proud Australian, Haitas is also very connected to his Greek heritage “through speaking Greek with [his] grandfather; attending liturgies; spending time at the Greek RSL commemorating important dates in our history; recounting stories from [his] family history; listening to Greek music; and of course eating Greek food.”There is a heroic connection to Northern Greece, specifically Drama, where his mother’s family is from. “My grandfather and great-grandfather fought in the Greek National Resistance during WW2,” Haitas said. “My great-grandfather was an army chief (οπλαρχηγός). I wear his medals at every opportunity – they make me feel connected to my history, and I am always proud to think of what he did for Greece.”READ MORE: War veterans – Konstantinos Kontossis shares his memories of serving at the front in KoreaHaitas had the opportunity to represent the Australian Defence Force in 2011 when he was contingent commander of a ceremonial delegation to Greece to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in the Battle of Greece and Crete. He describes this as an “amazing opportunity” that allowed him to represent Australia and connect with his heritage.“Like most Australians, I have always been proud of the Anzac tradition and what it represented – courage, strength, perseverance, mateship,” he said, and it is clear that he has experienced all these amazing virtues with the Australian Army.last_img read more