More than 300 military personnel who served in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities have quit the armed forces.
New figures also reveal the Defence Force is on track to lose more than 1000 regular force or reserve personnel in 2021.
A third of those who left recently cited work on Operation Protect, the military's contribution to the Covid-19 response, as a factor in their decision to move on.
National Defence spokesman Chris Penk, who obtained the data via written parliamentary questions, said the level of attrition is “massively concerning”.
Defence Minster Peeni Henare said in his written response to Penk it was “unsound” to draw a direct link between an individual’s service on Operation Protect and any decision to leave their service.
The majority of the 338 people who left Defence up to October 31 after serving on Operation Protect were in the Army (227), who serve as security in MIQs, where they have faced their share of challenges.
Recently, a woman with gang links spat in the face of a soldier who was delivering her lunch at Jet Park.
Of the remainder, 48 Navy personnel have set sail from their service, along with 43 Air Force staff.
Defence figures show 901 military personnel are serving in the Government's Covid response.
From April 1, a question regarding service in Operation Protect was added to an exit survey.
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Between then and October, 106 of 360 people cited Operation Protect as somewhat or very important in their choice to leave.
In the year to October 31, 797 regular force and 205 reserve personnel had left the Defence Force.
“The huge attrition we’re seeing in the NZ Defence Force is massively concerning,” said Penk.
“While the recruiting arm is scrambling hard to maintain numbers overall, there’s a huge loss of experience and operational readiness.”
Penk, a former Navy officer, said a key reason for the loss of personnel was Operation Protect.
“It was a reasonable short-term fix that’s gone on way too long. It’s now beyond a joke.”
This week, the Government announced Defence and police staff were deploying to the Solomon Islands after a request from its Government for help following unrest in the capital Honiara.
On Thursday, an advance party of about 15 Defence staff flew out from Ōhakea airbase aboard an Air Force Hercules.
Among their number were personnel from the Army’s high readiness unit and the Deployable Inter-Agency Task Force.
A further 50 staff will leave on the weekend, including about a dozen police officers.
Defence would not be drawn on the rules of engagement for Kiwi troops, saying only “NZDF personnel will operate under applicable rules of engagement and are deploying with weapons and personal protective equipment”.
In a recent interview with Stuff, Chief of the Army Major General John Boswell described the effect of Covid duties on the military.
“It’s reduced our ability to train, it’s caused significant disruption to their families, as our personnel continue to be deployed away from home,” Boswell said at the time.
“And the type of role being performed by soldiers is not why a lot of them joined the Army.”
In addition to fatigue with MIQ, soldiers and officers, particularly those in the communications, logistics, IT and engineering trades, were increasingly attractive to the private sector, where higher wages were on offer, he said.
Boswell said the Army had “ring-fenced some of our key capabilities right from the get-go” meaning it would be able to mount a humanitarian assistance mission in the Pacific.
But larger-scale, longer deployments like Timor-Leste two decades ago would be more of a challenge, he said.
“If we need to deploy an East Timor-like force, we would need to pull people out of Op Protect, we would need to provide them with some immediate training, and we’d need to get them offshore.”
Supplying and sustaining that force would also be a challenge at present, he said.
The Government has yet to say how long the deployment will last but Stuff understands it will be for at least several weeks.
Boswell said it would be between two and three years before the Army can return to its pre-Covid strength at all levels across all its trades.
The Army was putting the finishing touches on a regeneration plan, with a focus on the individual, he said.