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NZDF Volunteer of the Year generous with time and skills

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Volunteer of the Year Sergeant Maaka McKinney carries four pagers – he’s on call 24/7 to Coastguard Tutukaka, the Rural Fire Service, St John Ambulance, and his local fire brigade in Northland.

Sergeant McKinney is employed fulltime by Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), as a trainer conducting training and development for regional and national volunteer firefighters.

He is also employed by the NZDF for Reservist training and serves as a member of the New Zealand Army’s 3/6 RNZIR, Northland Company, as the company’s weapons sergeant. He served more than 20 years in the Regular Force.

As a local volunteer, he is a Deputy Rural Fire Controller for Kaikohe District Rural Fire Force, a member of the district’s long-duration scrub and bushfire firefighting team, a volunteer ambulance officer with St John in the Whangarei/Tutukaka area, and an operator for Coastguard Tutukaka.

That strong commitment to volunteering his time and skills to benefit his local community has earned him the NZDF Volunteer of the Year award for 2018.

Sergeant McKinney also raises awareness and funding for NZDF personnel and first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

In May last year he walked and cycled the length of New Zealand with no support crew, living on the side of the road, to help raise awareness for mental health.

This year he walked from his home in Tutukaka to Auckland with his dog Blaze to compete in the Sky Tower Challenge, raising money for mental health charities along the way.

“I wanted to motivate others to not be scared or embarrassed about having any form of mental health issue, to put aside that stigma and to take that step forward towards healing,” he said.

“And so I decided to take a journey, walking and cycling through New Zealand with the aim of encouraging first responders and NZDF personnel to seek professional help when they need it.

“I wanted to promote awareness and normalise the emotions that come with mental health issues – not to try and hide it, but to talk about it and share it.”

Along the way he has spoken to a number of community groups, police teams, fire brigades and ambulance crews.

He also went to New York to support the New York City Memorial Stair Climb, doing 80 floors in full bunker gear.

“While I was there I had an opportunity to talk to some of the men and women firefighters of the New York Fire Department about mental health and listen to what a lot of them go through daily.

“A lot of my close friends who I served with and who I volunteer with have in their own time come forward about their mental health issues. And together I have walked alongside them through their recovery,” he said.

“It’s a slow process but with professional help and peer support the pathway to recovery, healing and transformation needn’t be a lonely one.”

Sergeant McKinney is setting up a foundation to help NZDF personnel, veterans and first responders with mental health disorders using service animals, such as dogs and horses, in stress management programmes.

“There are a lot of support groups and initiatives, but none that focus solely on the employees and volunteers of these organisations,” he said.

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