"I had my kit and I was ready to go"
By Judith Martin
Anne Campbell, the Defence Force's highest ranking woman, has called it a day.
Brigadier Campbell, who joined the Army as a Private and rose through the ranks, has decided after four years as Director General of Defence Health to take up a newly created position as health advisor at Veterans Affairs New Zealand.
Brigadier (Rtd) Anne Campbell (WN-10-0118-001).
She can, she says, look back on her military career with pride, and, while there were more things she would have liked to achieve, the experience brought "a great deal of satisfaction".
As a medical student the ebullient young Aucklander never envisaged a long term career in the Army- she just wanted "a bit of adventure".
"I needed money to help pay my way through medical school, so I joined the Territorial Force."
There was no way I was going to make it my career though - I just wanted to enjoy myself and do something different.
She learned how to be a soldier and how to lead, but it wasn't until her final year at medical school when she worked an elective period with the New Zealand Army battalion in Singapore, that she first encountered Regular Force personnel.
"Before a field exercise I was told 'women don't go into the field here.' I told them I had my kit and was ready to go, and off I went."
Along the way she met and married infantry officer Bob Campbell. He was and still is, she says, her mentor and rock. With the option of changing a civilian job every two or three years to coincide with his postings, she decided to join the Army as a medical officer.
In the days when most female soldiers and officers undertook back-room roles, and left the Service if they became pregnant, the road she chose to take was not without its potholes. Deep ones. The response to her telling her Commanding Officer of her first pregnancy was a blunt, "Not in my Battalion". That was just after finishing a large exercise in Takaka knowing very well she was pregnant.
She has two children - Joshua and Ashley - and she recalls buying fabric and sewing her own Dacron maternity smocks as no garments were officially available. Her babies often snoozed in the back rooms of base hospitals while she tended patients.
Joining the Army is a decision she has never regretted. Quick to laugh and extend a welcoming word, but equally quick to sum up an emergency or disaster and act accordingly, Anne Campbell is in her element, she says, when she is doing her primary job, being a doctor.
Along with her share of exercises she has been deployed to disaster zones where her skills have been put to use within minutes of her arrival.
In 1997 a devastating tsunami struck Vanimo on the northern Papua New Guinea coast killing up to 4000 people. She lead a 20-strong team of New Zealand Army doctors, nurses and medics who helped their Australian counterparts tend an endless line of patients who were not only injured but had seen their families die and their villages disappear under the churning waves.
Outwardly confident when she arrived in the disaster zone, which was still under threat of more tidal waves, she assessed the situation before gathering her team of military personnel and one civilian Defence journalist - me - together and telling them that should another tidal wave strike, "run the fastest RFL you have ever run up to the top of that hill over there. Now let's get on with it."
She spent the next few weeks cleaning atrocious wounds, assisting with amputations, and supervising assessment and treatment of patients. Eighteen hour days were common for most of her team members; patients, their eyes wide with fear and pain, kept coming.
She deployed to a similar disaster zone in Banda Aceh seven years later. Part of the second medical surge to land in the stricken Indonesian city, she emerged from the aircraft beaming at the medics, nurses and doctors her team was replacing. She was concerned for their welfare, and was delighted to find them exhausted but happy, satisfied with the job they had completed in harsh conditions.
The missions, though, left their scars, Campbell admits. It wasn't the long hours, it wasn't the responsibility leadership brings, nor the stifling conditions but the disruption to communities and family units.
"The environments we as military medical personnel work in are never pristine after a natural disaster nor easy, but you just have to make them work. It's not the medicine that gets to you, it's the destruction of a society- the loss of loved ones, homes and a community. The pure grief that is right there before you."
Defence medical technology and assets have come a long way since she first deployed. Her job at the top entailed writing policy, ensuring competencies were met, managing equipment stocks, and ensuring new legislation was complied with, amongst a raft of other responsibilities. Preparing for the influenza pandemic was another.
It was fast-paced and stimulating work, and she loved being able to initiate positive change but admits there was little time for herself. But what she enjoyed most was getting out into the field; she even made a point of calling in to visit the New Zealand Regional Assistance Mission contingent during a recent holiday in Solomon Islands. "There's nothing better than being out somewhere in the world, being amongst our guys and girls who are doing their bit for their country in some far away hot and harsh place. They're inevitably in their element, doing what they're trained to do and loving it."
Her role with Veterans Affairs is a new position, and she is responsible for overseeing delivery of health services to veterans. Some of the veterans she deals with are in their early twenties and still serving, but most have left their Service. The War Pensions Act 1954 is under review by Sir Geoffrey Palmer from the Law Commission, with the aim of bringing it into line with current times and other government policies.
"We acknowledge a lot of our younger veterans have a long life ahead of them, and we have an increasing number of them from the many missions New Zealand has been part of since the mid-1990s."
She has not stopped practising medicine. "I'm Girl Thursday each week back at the City Medical Centre. It's good to keep my hand in; my patients have given me the most positive support in recent years."
Anne Campbell receives her Brigadier rank slides (WN-05-0280-01).
Anne Campbell is seen as a trail blazer by her colleagues, and as someone who has held onto her sense of humour and compassion on the journey. But being the senior woman in a predominantly male organisation, albeit with women going places, can be lonely.
"It had its highs and lows-the lows as in being lonely. When you're the only female Brigadier you're on your own in a way. Women who want to get to the top need to be resilient, and strong both in nature and character. I'm still the same person I was as a Captain, probably as a Private. I just got to the top, with the support from a lot of folk, both family and Defence Force colleagues."