Speaking out cost officer her job

JESSICA TASMAN-JONES
Last updated 05:00 29/03/2012
Kirsten McKenzie
Supplied
DROPPED: Former Air Training Corps Flight Lieutenant Kirsten McKenzie in uniform last year.

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A former flight lieutenant for a youth cadet unit claims she was asked to resign after contacting politicians online about her dissatisfaction with changes to the organisation.

Last year the New Zealand Cadet Forces changed their maximum age of eligibility from 21 to 18, resulting in the instant dismissal of some cadets.

Former Air Training Corps Flight Lieutenant Kirsten McKenzie claims she was told earlier this month that it was untenable for her to remain in her position, so resigned last week.

The Cadet Forces describes itself as ''a voluntary, disciplined, uniformed youth leadership training organisation'' directed by the Chief of the Defence Force.

The force is trying to reduce its budget by $400 million a year and on Tuesday announced it will scrap seven of its 10 military bands.

McKenzie, a mother-of-two from Epsom, took to Twitter in November last year to voice her concerns over the eligibility changes, something she was later ''told off'' for by her bosses.

She targeted some of her concerns at the Twitter accounts of politicians including National's Tau Henare, whose son was a cadet, and Labour MP Trevor Mallard.

On several occasions in late November she linked to a petition, organised by a cadet, to keep the age rule as it was.

Then on December 5 she tweeted her unit had farewelled 10 cadets the previous evening because of the change.

''There were tears shed,'' she said.

The same day she tweeted Mallard estimating 330 cadets nationwide would be affected.

Despite having already been warned, McKenzie took to the internet again earlier this year, this time on Facebook, voicing her concerns about other proposed changes.

Age limits were being placed on promotion courses that allowed cadets to move up the ranks.

McKenzie said her Facebook profile was private but friends from the Cadet Force could see it. However, by tagging MPs Jonathon Coleman, Nikki Kaye and Henare, her updates also became visible to them.

She has organised a meeting with Henare after Easter.

McKenzie had volunteered with her Auckland unit since 2004, and had been a cadet herself between 1989 and 1996.

She said she was disappointed with the way the change was implemented with no consultation or a phasing-in period so current cadets over the age of 18 weren't affected.

''My main concern for units is that you'd lose all your senior cadets and therefore all your institutional knowledge. It makes it hard to run leadership activities without the senior cadets there to lead them.''

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McKenzie said cadets who make it to the highest rank of Under Officer will be able to continue past the age of 18, but it was too late for a lot of current recruits to achieve that.

She suspects the changes are the results of the cutbacks.

McKenzie said changes will have a negative impact on around 4000 ''good kids'' who are part of the Cadets.

The Defence Force was unavailable for comment last night.

- Auckland Now

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