Defence and Veterans Minister Ron Mark received a standing ovation at an RSA event after he indicated new funding would be given to the organisation - despite only raising the subject with the Prime Minister minutes before and while on stage waiting to speak.

Mark also spoke of the need to give greater support for soldiers and former soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), saying he knew of too many suicides.

The former Army captain wore his medals and fought back tears during an earlier song paying tribute to fallen soldiers, and said he was "hanging out" to get to Iraq.

Mark also said media and other civilians scrutinising the actions of the military often didn't appreciate the pressures soldiers were under.


The NZ First deputy leader was attending the NZ Returned and Services Association's 101st national council in Wellington today, along with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who made her first official speech remembering her own family's military history, including her grandfather Harry.

After Ardern had left for another event, Mark took the stage and told RSA National President Barry John Clark he "had a whisper in the Prime Minister's ear" while Clark was delivering his own speech.

Mark told the audience he had asked Ardern if she remembered 2007, when Winston Peters had talked to some RSA executive members in the Koru lounge, and as a result the Labour-NZ First Government approved funding for the RSA.

That had since been stopped, but Mark indicated it would restart.

"I did remind the Prime Minister of that. And I am pretty confident that there will be discussions a little bit later on."

• Scrutiny of military operations

The Defence Minister referenced recent scrutiny of military operations, and implied they were unwarranted.

In March, New Zealand First called for an inquiry into allegations made in the book Hit & Run about an SAS raid in Afghanistan.


But Mark told the RSA audience that soldiers were now under enormous pressure.
"Thank god we no longer deploy men and women by the tens of thousands...but the stresses, the strains, the responsibilities are just as great.

"And dare I say it, for the private soldier with a rifle on the ground at that moment, at that time, given the rules of engagement, given the political focus, given the focus of the media both national and international - and some of it we have seen recently - I don't recall any conflict that we have ever deployed to as a nation where the actions taken by a lance corporal on the ground, actions taken in a nanosecond based on what that individual is confronted with...could be pulled apart and dissected over the next two months, two years, 10 years.

"Where other people who have never worn the uniform...make judgment upon that individual's decision at that point in time."

Defence and Veterans Minister Ron Mark on stage at today's RSA event, during a song paying tribute to fallen soldiers. Photo / Nicholas Jones
Defence and Veterans Minister Ron Mark on stage at today's RSA event, during a song paying tribute to fallen soldiers. Photo / Nicholas Jones

• PTSD and mental health

Mark joined the Army in 1971 as a soldier mechanic and rose to the rank of captain before leaving in 1985 to serve with the Sultan of Oman's Land Forces where he rose to major.

He said post-traumatic stress was a huge problem facing the military, and the Government and others needed to ensure the right support was in place. PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking event.

"Every one of us who have served knows someone who, post-deployment, left us. I can name a number.

"Many of these people who return from active service, operational service, probably don't right now believe that they do need help. Probably right now don't have the skills or the tools to identify the fact that they are in trouble."

Mark said some would still be serving and have a reputation for being troublesome or a bit out of control.

"People who have resorted to drug use, alcohol use. Whose marriages are on the rocks. Whose performance in the job has deteriorated. And some of them might well be written off as just people who are dysfunctional and need to be gotten rid of. We need to do better."

• 'Hanging out to get to Iraq'

NZ First, Labour and the Green Party all opposed the joint NZ - Australia training mission at Camp Taji to train Iraqi soldiers.

Mark said in his short time as Defence Minister he had the privilege to speak to the Chief of Defence Force and others in the military, and sit in on briefings.

"From what I have seen and the opportunities I have taken over my parliamentary career to get into the Solomons, East Timor, Afghanistan - I'm hanging out to get into Iraq as fast as we can - I have always been impressed by the level of professionalism and dedication of our service personnel."