Dear Kevin…

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img_6547Dear Kevin,

For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about your recent disappointment. You passion for the top job was clear. Maybe too clear.

I know the impact of unwelcome news can be demoralising. No one likes to be let down by the institution.

It has taken me a while to respond because I didn’t know what to make of your expression of grievance by turning to the media as a direct channel to express your sense that this was somehow unfair.

I know some people will disagree with my opinion here. I know that you were passionate to help the global community in the top job at the United Nations. And you clearly have a lot to offer.

Your strength of having a sharp insight into the dynamics of international affairs is well regarded, and no doubt this would have been beneficial for the myriad of challenges tackled by the United Nations, not the least of which are the wicked problems which the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals seek to address.

I have an interest in where the United Nations goes because I, in my own small way, am trying to contribute to game changing impact relating to child survival. Some might say and with good reason that to date I have been unsuccessful in my pursuit, but I continue to see what I difference I might make.

As I was reflecting on your grievance, expressed so publicly through the media, I remembered the seeing collateral that the Australian Government was using a few years ago when it was lobbying for a non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council. Some this collateral use photos showing the work of many of our Australian veterans who were on deployments under the banner of the United Nations. Many sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen deployed away from their family, often in danger, for long periods of time. Privation is part and parcel of service to country. And yes, we were all volunteers.

And it made me think about how some veterans feel. Many veterans feel completely abandoned by the government after they take off the uniform. And often these feelings held by veterans are not unjustified.

Often the grievances the veterans have relates to government decisions or government policy. Certainly, this often is a matter of interpretation by the veterans involved, but when people have given so much, aren’t they entitled to have this opportunity to express a grievance?

Sadly enough, most of the time their complaints seem to be stonewalled by bureaucracy. Or they get treated like just another number, their surname the unremarkable heading of a file or a letter. There is no sense of dignity reflecting the uniform they once wore in the service of country.

The military culture can be unforgiving at times. Often, in the face of a complaint or grievance the advice from superior officers is to get over it. Suck it up. Move on. Deal with it.

I have listened to the exasperated comments of many colleagues, and more other veterans who I don’t know but who have been brought into my circle of friends through social media such as Facebook. Their complaint is genuine, even if the technicality of their grievance has no basis according to government policy. I know this, and I suspect you know this too.

Worse still, it is these unanswered complaints held by many that I suspect has often been a large factor in many veterans deciding to take their own lives through suicide. Such a tragic waste and loss.

I mentioned that I am committed to making change about child survival. I am spending a lot of time thinking about my approach, and am writing about my experience in the form of a memoir that I think will be of value to others. This memoir will also point to a way forward. In the meantime, I am training up for a marathon at the end of October in Washington DC where I will focus my energies on raising awareness for the need to improve mental health among veterans. As I get more experience in having success in raising awareness in an area I am familiar with, I will deploy that knowledge into this pressing problem of child survival.

It hasn’t been easy, but I think back to the number of veterans who are suffering in silence and know that more needs to be done.

I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t use your platform in a more constructive way after you became aware that it seemed that the rug had been pulled from under your feet in your endeavours for the top job of the United Nations. There are so many problems bigger than your own grievance. Why did it need to come down to political point scoring? Why back yourself? Even if you were right, was there not a better way to have used that opportunity better?

And I think about all those photos of veterans used as collateral for campaigning to the United Nations that wove into your story to strengthen your platform for credibility as a contender for the top job. Many of those photos of veterans who now suffer in silence. Have you thought they feel let down, used and abandoned too? They have no platform to go to the tabloids.

We need better leadership in Australia. This begins with me and you. It is a responsibility for all of us.

I’m sorry for your disappointment. Suck it up. I hope you might contact me as there are more important fights that need your help.

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