Remembering the unsung heroes of New Zealand
OPINION: I'm one of 41,000 Kiwi veterans, and one of the 30,000 of us who have served New Zealand since Vietnam. Not since the end of the Second World War have there been more of us.
We've seen service in conflicts around the world and we each have our own stories to tell. We just prefer not to. It's always been that way for most.
It's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't served what it's like – and how we feel.
For a start, many of us do not feel like 'veterans'. Our 'deeds' are not legend, like those who went before us into larger conflicts, and in whose shadow we served.
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Our conflicts were different.
The trenches of WW1, The Battle of Britain, or the steamy jungles of South East Asia are what most people imagine when they think of a 'Veteran'. They fought their war and what was in front of them, and they did New Zealand proud.
Today, there is no front line or clear enemy.
Conflicts that we have served in - between conventional forces and irregular, insurgent forces – are characterised by a level of complexity and uncertainty different to our forebears. But these are often no less dangerous and stressful because of this We always needed to be alert no matter where we were, whether on land, sea or in the air.
But there is one 'battle' we have all fought - and that's adjusting to life after operations overseas, coping with death, the suffering of innocents, injuries and illnesses, and when we transition out of the military. It can be tough. In some ways we are better prepared for conflict than for the peace of home life.
'Service before self' is a way to describe the NZDF culture - looking after your mates and watching each other's backs.
But that's hard to do once you've left the forces.
Maybe it's because we don't see ourselves as veterans that we don't seek help until it's too late or it becomes a major crisis.
But we do need help - and more than ever before.
This younger generation of service men and women and the families that support them day in and day out must deal with many of the same challenges of those of Anzac fame - but perhaps without the same understanding of the public that our service to New Zealand comes at a personal cost as well.
Modern day conflicts bring the same injuries, affecting both body and mind.
Witnessing the suffering of civilians, particularly women and children, takes its toll on anyone who sees it.
And you never forget what happens to your own comrades overseas– those who die or are injured – physically or psychologically - protecting those that cannot protect themselves.
Almost all of us have muscle and bone injuries that last a lifetime. They often worsen with age and never let you forget your time in the forces. But we're not complaining –it comes with the territory.
The many tours into different theatres of war are especially tough on the families of servicemen and women. New Zealanders have been involved in 42 since the Vietnam War ended – deployments that have made about 30,000 kiwi veterans. All of these have families. Everyone is affected, to a greater or lesser degree.
Having left the full-time military, I now work for the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) and, together with local RSA associations up and down the country, we aim to meet the growing support needs of those impacted by their military service to New Zealand. We do not work alone. We work hard to support other organisations like Veterans' Affairs NZ, the NZDF and No Duff.
We support the families of our dead, our wounded and ill and those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and other mental health injuries brought on by service.
We also support service men and women with transitioning to civilian life and provide financial aid in times of hardship.
This is an important time of year for all veterans and current and returned service men and women.
Anzac Day is when we honour all those who have been killed in action in all of the conflicts and operations that New Zealand has been a part of. Through Poppy Day we also acknowledge all those who remain with us, many of who need our help.
Since it was set up in 1916, the RSA has always been a place where former service men and women can seek support from those who have shared their experiences. And that remains our focus today.
The Poppy Appeal will be on the street on Friday April 21. You can also donate by texting POPPY to 4662 (to make a $3 donation) or online at rsa.org.nz/donation.
Mark Compain is the National Support Services Manager for the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association