Q+A: Susan Wood interviews Major General Dave Gawn
Sunday 21 April, 2013
NZ Army Chief says defence force is adapting to generational changes to counter an attrition rate that is “far too high”.
NZ army chief Dave Gawn has told TV One’s Q+A programme that the rate of attrition amongst the defence workforce is “far too high” but is a generational issue.
“As Chief of Army, my view is that our attrition is far too high, but I think to get it back down to what it used to be - around the 12 per cent, which is certainly historically comfortable - I think that may be a hard ask in terms of the current generation,” Major General Dave Gawn told Q+A host Susan Wood.
Major General Gawn said the defence force was having to change the way it retained military personnel.
“So some of the initiatives around what we call total defence workforce, which enable our soldiers, sailors and airmen to move more freely into the service, into the reserves, back into civilian street and then back into the service again without penalty and freeing that up will actually provide, I think, what some of the new generations are looking for,” Gawn said.
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SUSAN WOOD INTERVIEWS MAJOR GENERAL DAVE GAWN
Listening to that [Jonathan Coleman’s] interview in Wellington is the Chief of the Army, Major General Dave Gawn. A very good morning to you, sir.
MAJOR GENERAL DAVE GAWN - Chief of NZ Army
Good morning, Susan.
SUSAN We’ve just heard Jonathon Coleman saying there’s a review underway in terms of peacekeeping. What does that review entail?
DAVE It really entails, I guess, from our perspective, options that can be provided to government in terms of what opportunities and force packages might be available in the future should the government wish to employ them in terms of peacekeeping operations or other United Nations operations, in particular.
SUSAN So what sort of opportunities are you looking at? Are there specific areas that you feel your troops may be best equipped to go to?
DAVE I think with that, Susan, the key is really just having a look at the world. You know, there are certainly significant areas of concern in the Middle East and across the Levant into Africa. And I think if we look at that area in particular, there is certainly a lot of work in the future that the international community have to do, and the United Nations is one approach in terms of achieving that. But, really, those policy issues are over to government, and it's just identifying packages that are sustainable, that are appropriate and give the government the greatest options to actually employ them as they see fit.
SUSAN Because at the moment, the numbers we could find, 13 peacekeepers, I think, in the world, New Zealanders - very small number. There is certainly room for growth in that, isn't there?
DAVE Certainly, there is only a few numbers in terms of wearing blue hats, but if you look at where we've been over the last 10 years, I think as the minister has just said in his interview, they have been primarily coalition operations, but Solomon Islands, East Timor, Afghanistan. It's been a significant commitment for a small country. The fact that they weren't wearing blue berets, I think, is really the only issue. But we have been committed to the international community and ensuring that the world is a better place.
SUSAN Now, the Defence Force has been in this process of rebuilding not only trust but capability after what was called the civilianisation process. How is that going?
DAVE It’s pretty good. Again, as the minister has said, morale is pretty good, and it always has been at the lower levels. So where the troops are employed, whether it's in training, whether it's on operations, you know, morale at that level has been pretty good.
SUSAN Is ‘pretty good’ good enough? Is ‘pretty good’ for morale good enough?
DAVE (CHUCKLES) ‘Pretty good.’ You know, soldiers, sailors and airmen, they join to train, they join to go on operations, they join and they enjoy doing what they're doing. Where we have struggled is actually in that middle, sort of, level of management, of leadership, and part of that is just where they are in terms of their careers and so on. So what we find in terms of attrition rates, it tends to be at that sort of two to six year mark.
SUSAN Just when you've put a lot of investment into these people as well, haven’t you? So you really do need to have a way to keep them there, don't you?
DAVE Yeah, we do and we work pretty hard to do that. As Chief of Army, my view is that our attrition is far too high, but I think to get it back down to what it used to be - around the 12 per cent, which is certainly historically comfortable - I think that may be a hard ask in terms of the current generation. I’ve got three kids about that age, and they want those experiences where they come in, they have this experience, they go out. So some of the initiatives around what we call total defence workforce, which enable our soldiers, sailors and airmen to move more freely into the service, into the reserves, back into civilian street and then back into the service again without penalty and freeing that up will actually provide, I think, what some of the new generations are looking for.
SUSAN With soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, are you expecting any mental health issues, as we have seen from soldiers returning from other wars?
DAVE Um, historically - and this is the case with all nations - historically, we get those. From Afghanistan, we've got around about seven over the period of 10 years that we are providing assistance to. But we also have in place-
SUSAN Do you think you've got them all? Do you think you've actually caught everybody who needs help?
DAVE You know, I don't know, Susan. People have to come forward, and I think for a lot, it's a very personal situation in terms of how they find themselves. Sometimes those psychological issues won't manifest themselves until later when they get the pressures of reintegrating into their home life and so on. So we've got a very, I think, robust process and framework in terms of identifying and providing help for those who actually seek it or for those who need it.
SUSAN How confident are you that the work - and I know it's an enormous amount of work that has gone into Bamiyan province - how confident are you that it's a sustainable legacy? I mean, countering that, we have stripped all the equipment from our bases, which probably doesn't leave the greatest message.
DAVE Um, yeah, the equipment that's been stripped has been the equipment that is sensitive, the equipment that is required. A lot of the computers, furniture, that sort of thing, have been gifted to Afghanistan, to Bamiyan. Confidence? I guess I'd put it this way: without the efforts of the last 10 years, there was no hope in Bamiyan. They now have the opportunity and that vision for determining their own future, and, you know, that's pretty powerful. And if you consider that you've now got a whole generation who have an idea that it can be different, that there can be equality, that women can go to school, that idea is something that it doesn't matter what happens, it can't be killed. So I think they are in a far better position. But they've got some real challenges ahead, there is no doubt about that.
SUSAN We’ve got Anzac Day coming up this week. Just briefly, can you tell me what it means to you personally?
DAVE Um, coming from a family of military people on both sides, it's really a time for reflection. And to me personally, the 10 that we lost in Afghanistan, those in East Timor, you know, those were all on my watch, and it is very, very personal, and you do reflect on each of those, but in particular the families who have been left behind, because it is tough on them. And they're reminded every Anzac Day, among other times, but every Anzac Day, that they've lost somebody very dear to them.
SUSAN Thank you very much for your time this morning. Major General Dave Gawn.
DAVE Thanks, Susan.