Although the pandemic is still far from over, Australians are certainly in a much better position this year. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the traditional ways of recognising ANZAC Day. While many paid their respects from home in 2020, this year, the opportunities to come together will return and many veterans will march again once more.

There are countless stories to be shared by Australian service men and women, past and present, but this year we are passing the mic to the women. According to the most recent Australian Government Department of Defence Annual Report 2019 – 2020, the participation rate of women in the permanent ADF has increased over the last couple of years. As of 30 June 2019, the ADF was 18.6 percent women, but reached almost 20% by June 30 of last year. “In that same period, the number of women serving in the ADF increased by 526, with 15 more women in senior officer positions”.[1]

 One of those women - Shamsa Lea - is a Director on the Board of Carry on Victoria. A veteran of Afghanistan, Middle East Region and Papua New Guinea, Shamsa is a currently serving Air Force Logistics Officer and is passionate about the care and wellbeing of ADF members and their families.

 In recognition of ANZAC Day this coming weekend, we share Shamsa’s story and get some insight from her about Carry on Victoria’s valuable work with veterans and their families. 


How long have you been in service?

I joined the ADF in 2008 while at university and was commissioned as a Logistics Officer in 2011. So, it’s been 13 years of adventure! 

What’s it like being a woman in service and what does it mean to you to serve?

I stand on the shoulders of the pioneering women who went before me and am grateful for their service and advocacy. Women can now perform (and succeed at) any Air Force role and we have many female senior Officers (including 2-star Air Vice Marshals). Female military members share a special bond, a common goal and it’s a wonderful community to be part of.

Are you able to identify any challenges that you think are specific to female veterans?

Female veterans are an emerging group, with unique needs that differ from the previous generations of traditionally male veterans. There is a unique identity transition for women who leave the ADF, and that can be overwhelming.

How is Carry on Victoria currently supporting veterans and their families?

We provide support to female veterans based on their individual and unique support requirements. We have ten WWII windows living in our independent living units at the moment.

 Carry on Victoria is deliberate in its approach to intersectionality within the veteran community. There is flexibility in our offerings to support the specific needs of the veteran - whatever their age, gender or background.

 We also assist the female spouses of veterans, who may have suffered significant physical or mental health issues. This can impact the family considerably and this is where Carry on steps in to support them.

 I’m very proud to serve on the board of this inclusive and contemporary ESO with a rich history of meeting veterans right where they are.

What does ANZAC day mean to you?

For me ANZAC Day is not a day of celebration – it’s a national day to remember. To remember that the ‘lucky country’ is built on the selflessness of those who serve - including the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served overseas defending Australia. For me, it’s a day of great pride and great reflection. A reminder of the privilege and responsibility I have in commanding a team of military men and women.

How will you be commemorating ANZAC day?

In the past, I always marched with the WRAAF ladies and attended their national luncheon. My husband is an active serving Chaplain, so he will be busy with commemorations. I will take the kids to a service, and I always take the chance to message a few veteran mates to check in on their mental health. No veteran should be alone on ANZAC Day.

Do you think the meaning of ANZAC day has shifted across generations?

I think ANZAC Day is now a day to remember military sacrifice - for those who never made it home and for those who made it home but were never the same. The ANZACs are now an eternal symbol for mateship, sacrifice and believing in something greater than yourself. 

 The shared experience of all defence personnel is their sacrifice on behalf of others. Military personnel have been more vital than ever in the past 12 months or so - through fires, floods and the COVID-19 management response. Service is about so much more than just going to war. The ADF have played an essential part in the safety of all Australians throughout 2020 and continuing into 2021; through service to the community, protection and assistance for the vulnerable and securing of supplies.

 As those who lived through the 2nd World War, become fewer, we rely on the younger generations to keep the ANZAC spirit alive and continue to support it as a day of remembrance for all who served. ANZAC Day is of course a time to pay tribute to those who have served in the ADF and lost their lives during that service, or as a result of that service.  It’s also a time to recognise the selfless contribution of those serving today.

Carry on Victoria has been supporting veterans, and their families, by providing help where they need it most: housing, advocacy, education, relief, and financial support. Help us make a difference, and reach more veterans and their families in need, in times of hardship. 

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