Managing presence and absence : experiences of partners of New Zealand soldiers deployed to Iraq : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Deploying overseas for New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel is seen as a
career-defining opportunity, one that puts into action the training and skills acquired by
the soldier. However, it is also important to understand who is left at home during a
deployment, and what their experiences are of life without their family member. This
thesis focuses on the experiences of seven women who had a partner deploy to Iraq as
part of the Building Partner Capacity mission. What I found was that my participants
talked about managing a presence-absence dynamic brought out as a result of the
deployment. By this I mean the state of either occupying, or being absent from, a space
in a particular form. During the three phases of deployment, soldiers were present and
absent in different forms: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The way in which
partners managed this presence-absence dynamic was through resilience building.
These women needed to become resilient to this presence-absence change, during the
three phases of deployment: pre-deployment, during deployment, and post-deployment.
This thesis explores how resilience was built through the concept of social capital, the
social connections and networks between people. Social capital allowed my participants
to maintain positive mental health, and support themselves and their families during the
deployment. Social capital, coupled with the NZDF welfare support services helped with
resilience building. Becoming resilient, and developing resilience in different forms,
through the NZDF and through their own strategies, allowed my participants to not only
manage their soldier’s deployment, but to thrive.