ANZAC Day is, for me, a day of contrasts – total silence at the Dawn Service and then the deafening roar of the 90,000-strong crowd after the National Anthem at the MCG for the Collingwood/Essendon AFL clash.
And although the blockbuster footy game is one of my favourite days on the calendar each year, it’s not a day where I compare the bravery and suffering of those who have served our country with the trials of my team on the footy field. Instead, on ANZAC Day I will be thinking about those who have given their lives in war, and the people I love who have served.
My husband is a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor, and comes from four generations of military men. My twin sister has served in Afghanistan and East Timor as a civilian. My brother-in-law is an Afghanistan veteran who is currently on deployment in Lebanon as part of Australia’s contribution to the United Nations. A colleague of mine at KPMG, Michelle Campbell, is a Colonel in the Army Reserve and has recently been awarded the NATO Meritorious Service Medal for her work in Afghanistan – and she’s only the 20th Australian ever to be awarded this honour.
However, for every person I know who has gone through their service without experiencing any long-term effects, there are many who still bear the physical and mental scars of their service. It’s not only those who have served on overseas operations who have sacrificed – there are so many who have died, been seriously wounded, or experienced severe mental health issues as a result of military training accidents or other peace-time incidents. And despite the irrefutable need for their work, the membership numbers of ex-service organisations, such as Legacy and the RSL, are declining each year, while at the same time, attendance at dawn services and ANZAC Day marches is increasing. Whilst generational differences have certainly changed the way ex-service men and women associate, the fact remains that they still want to associate. Therefore the ex-services sector urgently needs to develop a greater understanding of – and better cater to – the needs of veterans.
Furthermore, the ex-services sector is somewhat overwhelmed by capable organisations that are all keen to help, but sometimes their promise and potential to support those in need isn’t realised. Finding a way to improve governance and direction in this vital sector will be a significant challenge in the next decade, as more veterans are going to need, and seek, help.
So on ANZAC Day when I’m sitting at the MCG, and like tens of thousands around me, feeling the build-up of emotion during The Last Post, I won’t be thinking of the coming footy spectacle. I’ll instead be thinking of the courage and contribution of our service men and women, and the families who love them.
KPMG employs more than 40 former service men and women– many of whom have deployed on operational service. Stephanie Elwin is a former Defence public servant who is now a Manager in KPMG’s Defence and National Security Sector, specialising in People & Change consulting.