Former NZ Army Major Fiona Cassidy says that the public have yet to understand what the military actually does.
Defence Minister Ron Mark's proposed 'Kawenata' (covenant) will help the public to understand what the NZDF does and support servicepeople when they leave.
“Do New Zealanders actually know what we do? Do they actually recognise what they give to society? We don’t think they do," Major Cassidy says.
“I don’t think people realise that people who join the services have a unique profession. When they sign up, they sign up to be in harm’s way. They sign up to taking orders, they sign up to being deployed at short notice and they sign up to be away from their families."
This means whānau are often left at home, to run households on their own.
“Their families are the ones who are left behind looking after the children, looking after whānau.” Often for months or even years," she says.
Major Fiona Cassidy discusses the Kawenata - Photo / File
Military service, Major Cassidy says, is more than just 'war stories'. The diverse work of the NZDF turns everyday people into administrators, managers, logistics experts, chefs, mechanics and engineers. NZDF personnel have been delopyed in recent times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Australia, Vanuatu, Samoa, and Fiji. The problem is that when people leave the service, employers struggle to match their skillsets with their business needs.
“People don’t know how to transition to the next world. When people come out of the military, people don’t recognise their skills." Major Cassidy says.
“What we’d like communities to do is say ‘hey these people are part of us, they’ve got amazing skills, how can we help them be part of tomorrow and New Zealand in general.”
After serving in the Middle East and Bouganville, Major Cassidy counts herself as lucky that she transitioned into communications.
She now serves on Veterans' Advisory Board but admits her experience has been the exception rather than the rule.
The 'Kawenata' aims to reverse this unfortunate trend.