Veterans reflect on their new public service lives

Three things were once certain for veteran Catherine Potter: she loved the navy, she loved the sea, and she never wanted to join the public service.

The first two facts remain true for the former Royal n Navy cook, but a life change forced her to reconsider her aversion to being a public servant.

With three kids under the age of two, she decided to leave the military and took a leap into the unknown by entering the civilian world.

“I was so sad. I was forced really, I just didn’t want to get out at all, I loved the navy so much,” Ms Potter said.

She missed the camaraderie of military life the most. After a stint in retail, she dropped a long-held belief and joined the Department of Health.

“I vowed and declared I would never be a public servant, but here I am, 10 years later.”

Becoming a Health Department executive assistant, her new path answered a question for Ms Potter after her exit from military life left her feeling lost despite the massive task of raising three young kids.

She is one of thousands of veterans in the n Public Service, which is backing a federal government project that began in 2016 to make it easier for ex-military personnel to move into new jobs.

Close to 6 per cent of public servants identified as an n Defence Force veteran in a 2017 census, the public service commission says.

While the agency found most worked in compliance, service delivery and administration, Canberra-based public servant and former navy member David Roulston said many veterans entered civilian life oblivious to their skills.

Despite this, the military had prepared them well for many of its challenges, not least project management.

“The hardest thing to get your head around was the different language and culture,” he said.

“You need to know the jargon, otherwise it’s hard to relate your skills and experiences to non-military people.”

Because someone helped him, he returns the favour by talking to veterans entering the mainstream workforce, but are at a loss when writing their CVs.

Moving from the navy to the Defence Department, and later to an ACT government directorate, each transition presented him a new language to learn as he grappled with a new phase of life.

“The acronyms are different, it’s a different structure. It’s a cultural, behavioural, language barrier you’ve got to break through,” he said.

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