Covid-19 is taking a toll on the New Zealand Army, with a spike in the numbers leaving, driven partly by discontent over deployment to MIQ duties.
The chief of the army, Major General John Boswell, admits skills are being eroded as a result of soldiers missing out on training and warns it could take three years to rebuild the force back to its pre-pandemic strength.
The army expects 10.6 per cent of its 5000-strong force to leave this year. That’s up from the projected attrition rate of 8.5 per cent. Major General Boswell said as well as MIQ, a strong labour market and lack of deployment opportunities is making people rethink their career in the army.
Some soldiers who recently left told 1News MIQ duty took them away from their families for too long, the work was draining and it was not what they signed up for.
“It was like being a glorified security guard,” said one former soldier. Another said his family was left “isolated” during his six-week stints working in MIQ.
Major General Boswell acknowledged the strain it was having on their families.
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“We’ve got to re-establish that social contract both personally and professionally between our soldiers, their family and the New Zealand Army… That social contract really has come under significant pressure over the last 18 months,” he said.
For the past year and a half, more than 1000 army troops have been stationed at MIQ facilities across the country at any one time.
The exodus has prompted the army’s most senior non-commissioned officer to speak out.
Sergeant Major Wiremu Moffitt posted on social media: "While a single soldier or officer can mean a loss of character, en masse it's a big impact on competence and our collective ability as a Land and Special Force. As the December period closes, I ask you and your whānau to carefully consider any decision to release prematurely."
Former soldiers are concerned about the army’s ability to deploy if needed, with one telling 1News, “If they need to provide a large number of people, they will not be able to.”
Major General Boswell acknowledged large deployments like the one sent to East Timor in the early 2000s would be challenging. But he said if the army was needed in the Solomon Islands now, where tension is escalating, it would have the capacity to send a “short notice response force”.
The Government is planning to phase out the use of soldiers in MIQ.
The army’s priority now is rebuilding and “to get ourselves back in the game”, Major General Boswell said.