Troops at Covid-19 quarantine facilities told military reviewers it was unfair commanders at headquarters got better pandemic allowances than those working on the frontlines.
It's a frustration not entirely well-founded, says NZ Defence Force bosses, although it is one issue among others showing a divide between those working in Managed Quarantine and Isolation facilities and their commanders.
The detail emerged in a series of reviews into our military's contribution to running Managed Quarantine and Isolation facilities across New Zealand, dubbed Operation Protect.
The reviews, released to the NZ Herald through the Official Information Act, show NZDF running ongoing checks on systems to find cracks in its own defence of New Zealand before coronavirus does.
About 1200 NZDF staff are involved in running the MIQ system at any one time. An NZDF spokesman said the tasks were not the traditional military roles for which people would have joined.
"However our people signed up to serve and protect New Zealand and this is precisely what they are doing in Operation Protect."
The spokesman said military skills such as leadership, management, planning and resilience meant those deployed could do a wide range of tasks in uncertain settings.
The review documents show four separate review visits conducted across the country in which feedback was sought from staff and systems were examined.
The pay issue came from MIQ personnel frustrated the additional Operation Protect Allowance wasn't constantly paid during their postings to MIQ facilities "compared to seven days a week payment to HQ personnel regardless of work patterns".
"There was general opinion that (MIQ) workers were perhaps more deserving of recognition for the hours they work and restrictions placed on some personnel during respite days."
The review team found the frustration without basis as the allowance was paid to all staff on the same basis - it continued as long as they took fewer than five consecutive days of leave throughout the period they were assigned.
The reviewer said the conditions were the same at MIQ facilities as they were at headquarters, and were "entirely equitable".
An NZDF spokesman said for those on a break of five days or more, the allowance stopped being paid. "The payment of Operation Protect allowances is always under review."
Frustration over pay was only one divide between those running Operation Protect from headquarters and those at the coalface, with a review in May 2021 showing different levels of satisfaction between the postings.
Those working in command held a "unanimous opinion that the HQ is a rewarding place of work despite longer than average working hours", the review found. It allowed for a close watch on those assigned at headquarters, allowing some to finish early or work from home "in order to maintain morale".
Among comments collected from those in headquarters were those who said they were happier there than in their normal roles, that it was the "best posting to date" and "people here feel supported".
In contrast, those working at the MIQ facilities had "low satisfaction rates" and that NZ Army personnel did not want to be posted to Auckland because "there is no Army footprint in the region". The air force has the base at Whenuapai and Navy at Devonport while the NZSAS is based at Papakura.
The military's review branch linked dissatisfaction with personnel doing back-to-back rotations, meaning some spent up to six months away from home. Other issues included allowances not covering the costs of the posting, such as childcare.
One of the repeatedly raised issues in the reviews was the military's "pre-deployment training" - PDT - which was generally conducted before any mission to familiarise personnel with what to expect when they arrive in an operational zone.
The review said almost half the NZ Defence Force personnel posted to MIQ facilities did not know where they were being sent or what they would do when they arrived. Slightly more than half - 56 per cent - did not know what their chain of command was going to be until they arrived.
Of those surveyed, almost a third - 30 per cent - said pre-deployment training did not prepare them well for the job.
The reviews showed the kinks in NZDF's deployment are slowly being ironed out almost a year into the military's contribution to running MIQ facilities, which formally began in August 2020.
They are issues that will almost certainly be familiar to anyone starting a new job, with military personnel asking for computer logins and email to be set up before they start at the MIQ facilities and for a crossover period with the person they are replacing so as to better learn their roles.
The reviewers told commanders that these were among the most commonly asked after improvements and recommended a continued effort to offer the same PDT training across the country.
NZDF has told the Herald the large number of staff meant some people did their training up to a month before being deployed - before it had been worked out where they would be posted.
Other issues to emerge included the "complicated" command and control structure which saw those at MIQ facilities bombarded with operational orders, supplemented by "fragmentary orders" that added or fine-tuned earlier commands.
It led to "confusion" over command lines and was complicated by "the legendary NZ bro-net" which saw "more than one version of the truth" being passed up and down the chain of command.
Communications was also found to be a weak point, with a reviewer qualifying the comment by saying the issue was found for open and secure "All of Government" communications during the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, the Kaikoura quake, Tasman fires and the White Island eruption.
The issue extended to some staff being provided iPhones when lockdown was imposed last March, only to find that NZDF had blocked the phones from downloading any apps, limiting their use.