Mark Compain, RSA Support Services Manager, is keen to broaden the scope of support services.
He has only recently been appointed the new RNZRSA support services manager, but Mark Compain already has big ideas. He spoke to Karen Phelps of the RSA Review about his plans and how he hopes to make a difference.
One of Mark Compain's earliest memories is looking at his grandfather's RSA badge sitting in pride of place in his grandmother's home. "I remember wanting my own badge and to follow in his footsteps," he says.
The RSA has always played a big role in Compain's life. He hails from a long line of servicemen and women dating back to the New Zealand Wars.
He joined the RSA in his own right after 21 years in the Regular Force. His five tours of duty included operational service in Bosnia, East Timor and Afghanistan, and he remains an active member of the Army Reserves.
So what led him to his new role with the RNZRSA?
He says that being taken under the wing of Malaya and Vietnam veterans when he joined the Wanganui RSA as a young man spurred his interest in the service side of the organisation. On his 21st birthday the veterans gave him a service membership to the RSA.
Years later when he left the army and moved to Paraparaumu, he joined the local RSA and found himself gradually becoming more involved in support activities.
In his professional life he has held roles involving risk management and capability development with the New Zealand Police, the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
He hopes these skills and experience, combined with tertiary qualifications in business studies and a certificate in care and counsel for combat trauma, will prove useful in his new role.
What does he hope to achieve? He has already identified two main areas where he feels improvements can be made.
First, he wants to strengthen and develop the support-services network of volunteers. One idea is to attract younger people as support advisers by tapping into organisations that recruit volunteers.
"The number of veterans is increasing at a greater rate than at any time since World War 2 as the Government sends our men and women overseas in greater numbers.
"Our older volunteers need the support of younger people coming through to ensure the longevity of our support services. Younger people will also bring a certain vibrancy and a different outlook, that will complement age and experience."
Second, a need for broader-based support targeting not just older veterans but also younger veterans and contemporary service personnel and their families.
"There has been a lot of work done over the past two years in this area, but we also need to extend this support to families while people are deployed overseas."
He points to the RSA's club-card scheme and its discounts for members as a step in the right direction to helping young families, but acknowledges that a long-term plan is needed. The RSA has already taken the first step by engaging with the New Zealand Defence Force to identify what assistance is needed.
The RSA has run focus groups with serving personnel at Linton and Ohakea to test their perception of the RSA and ask how the RSA could best assist them.
Mark Compain says similar meetings are planned for Whenuapai and Devonport, and the aim is to cover all major military bases. He says it's part of a deliberate programme to build a strong relationship between the RSA and serving Defence staff.
As a member of the Paraparaumu RSA he has been involved in identifying where local service personnel and their families need assistance. A family focus group with Defence and ex-Defence personnel on the Kapiti Coast quickly identified that families wanted somewhere safe to bring their children so that parents could relax and catch up. Two families in Kapiti have since been offered support.
"One family had three children under five, so we've taken the older children out to give mum a break.
"We have plans to develop this kind of support and we're hoping that schemes like this will gain momentum. For example, parents could come to the RSA and older veterans could be mentors."
As a great grandson of a Gallipoli veteran, Mark Compain has walked New Zealand battlefields following his family's footsteps through Gallipoli, France, Belgium and Italy on several occasions, and he hopes his experiences will prove useful in his new role.
"I'm ex-military and a returned serviceman. I'm of that post-Vietnam cohort that hasn't really engaged with the RSA, so I have an insight as to why that may be and how we might change things.
"As a part of the Army Reserves, I can maintain my networks in the Defence Force and keep my finger on the pulse in terms of attitudes and perceptions.
"Going into this role I'm grateful for the opportunity to address issues that have been vexing my generation and, if not addressed, will continue to vex those to come, and to support all returned and service persons and their families. There's a lot of hard work to do. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
"After looking at my grandfather's RSA badge and to now be in the position where I can help support returned service people across all generations is a really great feeling."