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When 15 Is Not Enough

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Hon Heather Roy address to the Territorial Force Employer Support Council (TFESC) Canterbury Regional Employer Awards; Air Force Museum, Wigram, Christchurch; Wednesday, December 2 2009.

Chairman of the Canterbury Regional Committee of the Territorial Force Employer Support Council, Mr Peter Townsend; Employer Support Council Committee members; Reserve Force employers from throughout Canterbury and beyond; members of the New Zealand Defence Force; ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to speak to you this morning at the 2009 Territorial Forces Employer Support Council Canterbury Regional Awards Ceremony.

If any region in this country knows the importance of strong leadership and taking the field supported by a dynamic, high utility bench it is Canterbury. Fifteen rugby players - no matter how good they are - will not see you through a game, let alone a season.

The same is true of national security. Tactically, it makes sense in both scenarios to keep your specialist performers and impact players fresh as reserves. We all know that, without school and club rugby, Canterbury couldn't field the champion NPC and Super 14 sides that it has and New Zealand could not sustain a competitive All Black performance. In the Defence Force, as in rugby, full-time versus part-time is not a choice. It is not a case of either/or but, rather, both/and. You are here this morning because you understand that.

This morning's awards recognise the timeless bond between society and its protectors. Whether threats to our lifestyle arise through the forces of nature or external aggression, no military force in history that has separated itself in terms of geography or attitude from the society it serves has ultimately prevailed. Reserve Forces represent one of the most tangible links for ordinary Kiwis to their Armed Forces. Yet still there are some who think that Defence would be better served by getting rid of Reserves in favour of a full-time force. To them I say: "Not on my watch!"

I know, from personal experience, that it is not easy to serve your country as a Reservist. When I joined the Territorial Force in 2006, I used a mix of Parliamentary recess time and leave in order to attend Basic Training. To avoid accusations of 'double-dipping', I donated all my Army pay to the RSA's Tasman Fund for Vietnam Veterans and their families.

While I received a lot of encouragement, I was also the recipient of significant public and private criticism of my choice - comments like "ACT MP missing in action" were not uncommon. I firmly believe that what I learned in Waiouru, particularly about myself, made me a better representative in Parliament.

Gone are the days when nations could rely on a general call-up of able-bodied men for contingencies ranging from civil disaster to total war - luckily, some of us in the weaker sex are also not too bad at driving bulldozers and blowing things up!

The current Reserve Force - which numbers about 2,300 soldiers, sailors and airmen - represents over one-fifth of the total personnel strength of the NZDF. More than 500 Reserve Force personnel have deployed around the world in recent years, and many more have undertaken full-time service in New Zealand so that others could deploy.

Throughout history, we Kiwis have always expressed our dislike for compulsion. This is reflected in attitudes to prohibition and in the frequent changes to Compulsory Military Training and National Service schemes over many decades. However, the retirement of the wartime generation of politicians and business leaders brought additional complications for those wishing to serve their country in a part-time capacity in the Defence Force.

For the first time, they had to explain the value of their service to employers in order to get leave to attend training or operations. Coupled with continuous rapid change and variable economic circumstances - now permanent features of our markets - it is not surprising that our Reserve Force numbers have sharply reduced from the 30,000 that existed in 1972. It is pertinent to note, here in the Air Force Museum at Wigram, that the Territorial Air Force was the first of the three services to be decimated with the disbandment of the four Territorial Mustang Squadrons in the 1960s.

I am committed to the ongoing redevelopment of a strong, vibrant and relevant Reserve focus for the NZDF. You may be wondering where the numbers might come from for a larger Reserve Force. In parallel with the Defence Review, I am leading three companion studies that address: Defence Industry, the role of the NZDF in youth programmes, and Voluntary National Service.

The latter study is being conducted by recently retired Brigadier Tim Brewer, who will be known to many of you as the former Director-General of Reserves and Cadets. VNS is a whole-of-Government concept that is similar to the US 'Learn and Serve' schemes. If it is implemented, Reserve Force numbers will inevitably increase. There are also opportunities within the Defence Industry sector for closer ties with the Reserves, and that is an area where you all have a role to play.

The TFESC is a key component in communicating and liaising with employers and employer groups. Under the guidance of National Chairman John Allen, the Canterbury Regional Committee has put significant effort into informing employers about the value that they gain from encouraging their employees to serve in the Armed Forces.

The work of Peter Townsend in this role, and also as the facilitator - through the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce - of so many job opportunities for those attending the Limited Service Volunteer Scheme at Burnham, has set the standard for the rest of the country to emulate. For that and so much more, Peter, I thank you. My thanks also go to every member of this Regional Committee, past and present, who has given their time and experience to further this cause on behalf of our country.

Leadership is one of the most studied and also least understood talents. In the corporate world, the terms 'leadership' and 'management' are often used interchangeably. A cadet once asked a veteran instructor what the difference between the two was. The Sergeant Major, after a moment's reflection replied: "That's easy son - you can lead a man to his death, but you can't manage him there."

That is why this award ceremony is so important. As the heads of your respective organisations, your management ability is unquestioned. This morning you are here because you are leaders. You have led by example and have chosen a tougher path - one that involved making sacrifices in your organisations for a greater good. All the employers here this morning, and many more who are not, have gone beyond what the law required them to do in order to help New Zealand play its role in the world and to keep Kiwis safe.

The key to success in national security is a three-part team: reservists, families and employers. Each group is critical to the development and success of the NZDF. Service personnel face many challenges, and I couldn't speak about civilian or military employment without mentioning families.

It is impossible to understate the importance of support from the home front. Whether it is to attend training or to deploy on operations, the entire family of a service member contributes to the whole. In these days of the market that never closes, the same is also true for the wider commercial sector as more couples and single parents are forced to juggle work and family commitments, and employment is no longer just nine-five Monday-Friday.

In my view every employer, large or small, who supports New Zealand society - be it through encouraging staff in the Forces or via scholarships, donations or community events - is a leader and worthy of our acknowledgement. This morning we have the opportunity to recognise and celebrate the specific commitment of local employers who have gone, as James Flecker wrote, "always a little further" on behalf of New Zealand's Defence Forces. To you - and all those like you - thank you, on behalf of a grateful nation.

Lest we forget that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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