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MY FATHER WAS A SERVING SOLDIER FROM THE EARLY 1950S…

... I grew up in a military family and we lived in Army housing areas in Linton and Papakura, as well as two postings abroad. While dad was serving in Borneo our family lived in Malaya, and while he was in Vietnam we lived in Singapore. It was a great experience and with wonderful places to live in. On return to New Zealand we lived in Linton Camp, Palmerston North. Growing up I lived for sport – athletics in the summer and rugby and football in the winter.

I was living in Papakura when I enlisted into the Royal New Zealand Artillery in April 1982. I have been with the New Zealand Defence Force for 37 years- 30 with the Army and the past seven as a civilian and Territorial Force soldier. I joined the Army as a career soldier rising to the rank of Warrant officer Class One. Following in the footsteps of my father, I knew from a very early age that this is what I wanted to be, and I have never regretted that decision.

I remember that when I first joined everything happened so fast. I remember being on the receiving end the whole time, soaking up everything we needed to learn to set us up for a successful career as a soldier. I don’t recall having any major difficulty, to me it was just easy. It was just an extension of being brought up in a military family. From my Basic Training camp there is now only one soldier still serving, and I see him quite often.


“I REMEMBER THAT WHEN I FIRST JOINED EVERYTHING HAPPENED SO FAST. I REMEMBER BEING ON THE RECEIVING END THE WHOLE TIME, SOAKING UP EVERYTHING WE NEEDED TO LEARN TO SET US UP FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAREER AS A SOLDIER.”


The decision to leave uniformed service was taken away from me, as I was part of the Civilianisation project (Impacted personnel) in 2012. The transition from military to civilian life because of that, was particularly hard both on me and my family. I have now been out of the regular force for 7 years, however I was asked to rejoin as a Reserve force soldier.

The transition was particularly difficult due to the circumstances of my leaving the Regular Force. There was no support from the organisation, and in a lot of ways I felt ignored from the time I had been identified as being impacted until my last day of duty in uniform.

There was little or no support from the NZDF at this time, but as there were a group of us in Trentham, we worked together to try to organise our own networks and support from banking institutions, Veteran Affairs, etc.

NZDF left us to sort out our own pay, leave and other admin issues. We were given a ‘manager’ who was an administration Private. If it hadn’t been for the contacts and networks which had evolved over a number of years, we would not have received our full entitlements on leaving the service. There was a lot of mixed and contradicting messages coming from the organisation, which was another layer of uncertainty adding to the anger and hurt we were experiencing.

There was no ‘back-up’ for me as the Army was all that I had known. I took a civilian role with the NZDF back in my home location, Palmerston North. This was not only to reunite with my family full time, but also because I have a passion for training. My role is effectively one that I did while in uniform 6 years prior, but at a significantly reduced level of salary.

I spent just under 30 years in uniform so the changes outside of service didn’t really affect me too much. The biggest challenge I have faced since leaving uniformed service is the way civilians are treated and thought of by the uniformed branch of the Army and NZDF as a whole... personally I don’t feel that I have effectively transitioned out of the Army. I still carry the stigma of the impacting process and find it difficult to get past it.

The most positive transition experience I have is the support provided by individuals rather than from an organisational perspective. For anyone thinking of leaving the service the advice I would provide is to do so on your own terms, have something to go to. Use your knowledge and experience and values for what is to come next. Be prepared.


“FOR ANYONE THINKING OF LEAVING THE SERVICE THE ADVICE I WOULD PROVIDE IS TO DO SO ON YOUR OWN TERMS, HAVE SOMETHING TO GO TO. USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE AND VALUES FOR WHAT IS TO COME NEXT. BE PREPARED.”


For civilians and other organisations, I’d like them to have the understanding that myself and other veterans have a lot to offer from our experiences working in a large organisation with a diverse range of people, from our years of training, from our years of knowledge and the values and ethics that have been instilled in us. For example, I have managed multimillion-dollar accounts, managed training design and development and assisted in planning the support needed for major incidents, such as disaster relief. We may not have formal qualifications in a lot of areas, but experience counts for more than just a piece of paper that tells others you can pass a test.

Being part of the NZDF, in any of the three services, is a great way of life which can offer a variety of trades and experiences, challenges and rewards. There are lots of opportunities within the service, but also a lot that can be taken from serving into the civilian world. Always look to the future and what comes next.


“ ALWAYS LOOK TO THE FUTURE AND WHAT COMES NEXT.”


Transitioning from uniform is definitely still a day by day experience for me. When I look back at the organisation’s decision to release me, it still causes anger and upset. The process was hard and uncaring, and certainly gave no support or closure for me.

The Army and Defence instilled in me the ethics and values I live by. From my experience with the transition process I find that its essential to retain personal integrity but don’t expect the same in return.

 
Katharine Holgate