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Navy Pioneer Takes Helm of RNZRSA Board


(For immediate release)

July 24, 2019

Navy Pioneer Takes Helm of RNZRSA Board

She was the first woman to serve at sea in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Breaking new ground a few years later, she returned from maternity leave to become the New Zealand Defence Force’s first part-time working parent. And, when she was appointed Commander of the Devonport naval support base, HMNZS Philomel, it was another female first.

Now, more than 35 years after beginning her military career, Captain Corina Bruce, career servicewoman, leadership specialist, software engineer, executive and entrepreneur has just been elected Chair of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association Board – again, as the first woman to hold the role.

Ms Bruce, who joined the RNZRSA board in 2015, says her appointment as Chair is an immense honour, but one that comes with significant responsibility, as the organisation adapts to a future that is very different to its past.

“I see one of our key priorities is to broaden the understanding of what the RSA movement is about at its heart.

“It wasn’t until I was a commanding officer that I, myself, gained true insight into the exceptional work our RSAs do, often behind the scenes, helping our personnel transition back to civilian life, especially when they’re feeling challenged.

“It’s powerful and unique support that can’t be offered by other agencies – it’s comrade helping comrade from a place of true knowing and understanding, and without judgment. It is literally life-changing.”

Work was already underway, as part of a modernisation strategy, to adapt the RNZRSA’s model to ensure it is financially sustainable and structured to meet the changing needs of serving and returned military, Ms Bruce says.

“The veteran of today and the future is very different to those of the past, so we need to adapt and change, as needed, to do the best we can for our servicepeople.

“My sense is that many of those questioning the relevance of today’s RSAs aren’t aware of the nature and scale of the core work that’s going on behind the scenes, and what an incredible difference its making.

“So, when I’m asked whether the RSA movement has a future, my response is pretty simple: while we still have servicepeople and veterans needing support, the RSA is not only relevant, it’s essential.”

Ms Bruce enlisted in 1983 on completing her computer science degree, and served in several engineering roles, including as Director of Naval Information Systems, before joining the United Nations mission to Kosovo as a peacekeeper. On her return to New Zealand, she was appointed Commander of Personnel and Training (Technical), before going on to command of HMNZS Philomel.

A graduate of the New Zealand’s Institute of Strategic Leadership, she is a national evaluator for the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation. In 2014, she was a finalist in the Women of Influence Awards’ board and management category, in recognition of her work championing diversity and inclusion, including the mutual employer-employee benefits of flexible working arrangements for women in the military.

RNZRSA National President BJ Clark says Ms Bruce’s strong mix of people skills, military knowledge and in-depth experience in transformational leadership, strategy and culture is a boon for the organisation.

“We’re very fortunate to have someone of Corina’s calibre lead the board into the future, particularly at such a pivotal time,” Mr Clark says.

“She brings a strong, diverse skillset and experience, coal-face understanding of the military and our people, as well as commercial acumen. Corina is also widely respected both throughout the military and right across the RSA movement.”

Ms Bruce recently served as the New Zealand Defence Force’s Commander of the Joint Operational Health Group, and has just completed a secondment to NZDF’s Diversity and Inclusion Directorate. She is now in the process of transitioning from the regular forces to the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve.

While she has been one of the defence force’s lead advisors on making the workplace more inclusive of women, Ms Bruce says it is imperative that the importance of inclusion and diversity not be narrowed to a gender issue.

“Recent history has provided a well-overdue societal reckoning when it comes to how we treat one another. There have been lessons for all of us to learn, and I like to think most of us live and view life through a broader, more tolerant lens nowadays.

“Absolutely, addressing the gender issue is important, but, officially there are 11 ‘frames’, including religion, sexual orientation, culture – and I add a 12th on top of those: the specific mental health and wellbeing needs of those who have served, which can be quite different to those of the wider community.

“Our veterans and service people of the future are only going to become more and more diverse – a direct reflection of the community they’re serving. As an organisation, the RNZRSA’s future depends on being in step with that, and we’ll be all the richer for it.”

The RNZRSA is the umbrella organisation for more than 180 clubs throughout the country, which are home to some 100,000 members.

As well as her military and governance roles, Ms Bruce, together with husband Tony, has a passion for building businesses, with interests traversing coffee, snow and water sports gear and property ventures.

Ms Bruce replaces retiring inaugural board Chair Phillip Meyer. Mr Meyer was instrumental in delivering a nationwide governance programme and a principles-based constitution, reforming a complex network of legacy trusts, as well as spearheading a five-year modernisation strategy.

“It has been a pleasure to work with such a capable, diverse and dedicated governance team. This is a group of people who give of their time and expertise for no reward, other than the immense satisfaction that comes from honouring and supporting our serving and returned service people, and their families,” Mr Meyer says.

“I leave the Chair’s role in strong, astute hands. Throughout her lengthy and distinguished career, Corina has proven herself courageous, a person of great integrity, an innovator and an outstanding leader of people and projects.”


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