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Remembrance and respect

A personal reflection on ANZAC Day from an Air Force Nurse.

Nurses and patients in front of The Anzac Hostel, which operated with the help of Brighton Red Cross Branch nursing volunteers, in Brighton, Victoria, in 1919. Photo: Australian Red Cross Archives

I am a nurse in the Royal Australian Air Force.

In 2005, I served in Iraq. This experience greatly influenced how I feel on ANZAC Day. For me, it is a profoundly emotional time – one that brings not only sadness but also peace and contentment – and in this blog post, I try to articulate some of the reasons why.

I grew up being taught a reverence for ANZAC Day and what it signifies. As such, I have always held a deep respect for those who have served Australia and its allies. Underpinning everything for me is that the day is about remembering and respecting those who paid the ultimate price for their service, in particular the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who landed on the shores of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. It is also about acknowledging the amazing, resilient women and men who have served and continue to serve today, and importantly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have served in the armed forces, in every conflict, commitment and peace-keeping mission, since the Boer War in South Africa in 1899. 

Indeed, it is only right that there is a day where we pay the utmost respect to all who have served to ensure that they are never forgotten and to acknowledge that we live the lives we do today because of their service. Even my eight-year-old son has grown up knowing that "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them". They deserve no less and so much more.

I have been in the Royal Australian Air Force for 30 years and a nurse in the Air Force for almost 20 years. I served in Iraq and know first hand that war impacts all sides. For years afterwards I was a Military Critical Care Air Transport (MCAT) Nurse, involved in the aero-medical evacuation of critically injured military and non-military patients from overseas and within Australia. 

Every one of these experiences has changed me. I am who I am today because of my Air Force service and not a day goes by that I do not think about Iraq or about an aero-medical evacuation that I have been involved in. 

The laws of war call on medical assistance to be driven by the urgency of the need, not the side on which someone was fighting or otherwise who they are.

These thoughts and feelings are amplified tenfold on ANZAC Day. At a Dawn Service or while marching I reflect on many things:

The laws of war call on medical assistance to be driven by the urgency of the need, not the side on which someone was fighting or otherwise who they are. I remember all of the patients I have had the honour to care for because they are the exact reason I wanted to became a nurse in the Air Force. They have not all been Australian, they have not all been Defence personnel yet they have trusted us to provide the highest standard of medical care – sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances and in austere environments. They have had a lasting impact on my life and I feel so very lucky that I was one of the people who got to be involved in providing their care.

I think about my colleagues and friends who I have served with over the years. They are some of the most selfless people and they do what they do because they care. Because they, like me, feel that everyone deserves the highest standard of care regardless of their circumstances. We have shared some extraordinary experiences and, beyond their wide-ranging support to me, they have made me laugh on some of the toughest days. I will be forever grateful that our paths crossed whether for a moment in time or as friends over many years.

My family and friends who have supported me are in my thoughts on ANZAC Day. They are unsung heroes because they provide the love, support and freedom that enables me and others to do what we do. They do not get enough recognition and we could not do what we do without them.

I think a lot about my son. I hope I have been a good role model. I hope that when he is older he feels that I contributed. I continue to teach him what it is all about and I know that he understands that ANZAC Day is more than a parade going along North Terrace and King William Road. I hope he takes the attributes of courage, determination and camaraderie into his adult life.

For all of these reasons ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance, respect and appreciation for me. It is very personal and very emotional, not because of what I have been through or done but because of the patients, friends and colleagues I have met and because of the love and support I have received along the way. I feel so very fortunate that I have been given the opportunities I have – they will never be taken for granted.

So, on ANZAC Day, I march to say thank you.

With thanks to Wing Commander Carla Zampatti, Nursing Officer, Health Reserves Branch – Air Force who is also a member of the South Australian IHL Advisory Committee of Australian Red Cross. The article was written in her personal capacity.