21 Apr 2021

Importance of ANZAC Day in Modern Times

V2 Natalee Johnston ANZAC Banner

I did not go to war, I don’t have a father or grandfather who went to war. So why do I think ANZAC Day is so important?

During my 24 years as a military helicopter pilot and leader, the majority of my operational time was spent helping those in need by providing Humanitarian aid and disaster relief. We provided assistance both during and post bushfires, floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. We supported peace keeping forces, border protection, training exercises, and all avenues of Navy and Army national and international training. I felt like I contributed to the community, I had a sense of self worth as we were achieving something beneficial.

Whilst serving I lost friends due to accidents and saw friends suffer due to events they experienced whilst on duty. I continued to serve post these events due to the feeling that my contribution could make a difference, I was part of something bigger. I always participated in ANZAC day feeling proud to march in uniform and represent the current generation of military members. I wanted to be there to support those who have been to war, who fought for our freedoms and way of life, for those who suffered and those who have lost because of military service.

ANZAC Day was about being grateful for the sacrifices of those who went before me where the decision to defend our nation was one many paid the ultimate price for. It is for remembering friends who are no longer with us, reflecting on the past and being grateful for what they have given us.

In 2019, I participated in my first ANZAC day not in uniform. I had resigned the year before to embark on new challenges. By leaving the forces, I left a 24 year safety net, a comfort zone and an environment surrounded by friends and people who knew me. It was strange that first year – like losing your identity – continually questioning the decision I made & whether it was the right one. That ANZAC day I marched not in uniform, not with a Naval Squadron, but with other veterans, young and old from long past wars, controversial wars, and many like me who had not seen conflict firsthand but had served with pride whilst helping those in need.

As a veteran you can often feel isolated, no longer having a direct impact on disaster relief or protecting your community. Watching someone else make that difference can be hard. You are missing something that was once so much of your life. ANZAC Day commemorates the sacrifices of those who have gone before, but as a veteran it is a day where you can feel the recognition and the gratitude of the community for all that you have done. You feel again that you belong, you are still part of something bigger. That ANZAC day was the first time that I really felt the appreciation of the wider public for what I had given, my energy, my commitment, my time.

Since leaving I have begun to look for other ways I can contribute to society. I was the first female pilot in the Royal Australian Navy and the only one for 8 years. I didn’t think much of it at the time, making a point that I had not achieved anything more than my fellow course mates. However, looking back I think much of my behavior was about survival. I strived to not stand out but at the same time pushed to gain more and more responsibility. My experiences as a leader and the decisions I made were not always positive, the bad ones are the ones that often stick in your mind. I have been fortunate to have an opportunity to reflect and look at those less-than-ideal situations and decisions and learn from them. I now use my learning experiences to inspire and educate the next generation of leaders, like promoting women in STEM and showing young men that the women deserve to be there. It is vital to change attitudes and bias by understanding how we make decisions and what influences us.

ANZAC day reminds me of what I have achieved and what can be achieved when we work together to support those who serve in any uniform. Unfortunately, for many veterans leaving the service, their experiences can weigh heavily on them, making suicide far higher among veterans than the general population. Veterans need to feel like they belong to something, that they matter. So, this ANZAC Day, commemorate all those who served, those who saw conflict, those who did not, those who helped save lives, those who did not. Regardless of where or how they served, recognise them for what they sacrificed; family, friends, energy, time, health and lives.


About the Author:

Natalee Johnston is the Australian Navy’s first female pilot, instructor, flight commander and executive officer. As a speaker, Natalee takes her audiences on a journey of career and personal highs and lows, of self-doubt and the importance of support to keep you and your loved ones safe. Find out more about Natalee here or browse our full range of ANZAC speakers here.

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