RAAF veteran sees horrors and rewards in humanitarian work
FERNVALE veteran Margaret Koimans has seen the extremes of service in her 29 years as a RAAF medical assistant.
She was deployed to East Timor and Rwanda and was medically discharged in March.
In 1995 she was part of the second contingent deployed to Rwanda for six months, based in Kigali with the United Nations-led peacekeeping force.
"Rwanda in one way was really horrific but at the same time was extremely rewarding to do the smallest thing for these people," she said.
"It didn't matter how minor it was, they really appreciated it. The job satisfaction there was probably the best I have felt for 30 years.
"I was based at the local hospital in Kigali. While we were there we had the Kigali massacre. We had a lot of patients brought in from that.
"There were also a lot of mine blast injuries; a lot of amputations, especially young children. They'd go out there and play with these things, not realising what they were and there were still a lot of victims from the main massacre. A lot of them, when they were injured fled to the hills until it was safe to get back. So some of them had some pretty old wounds that had to be treated.
"It was hard to get over that. I ended up with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is why I was medically discharged in the end. I've had it all along but I was able to handle it in my own way, but eventually it got to the stage where I couldn't manage it on my own. Back then there was a stigma around that. It wasn't until later deployments that they handle all of that differently."
In 1999 she was deployed as part of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), working in operating theatre.
As we remember the fallen at 11am today, RSL Queensland has focussed this year's Poppy Appeal to celebrate the contribution of female veterans across the defence forces.
Ms Koimans joined RAAF in 1986 and served in 3 Hospital and 6 Hospital squadrons. She was more recently working in training and in Canberra organising aeromedical evacuations.
She was at RAAF Base Amberley with Health Services Training Flight for three years and has worked at bases around the country including RAAF bases Edinburgh, Richmond, Laverton, East Sale and Fairbairn but returned to live at Fernvale where she had bought property and to live close to family.
"I originally lived in Adelaide but I've been Defence for 29 years now. I've been everywhere. I've forgotten where home is.
"I recently moved back to Fernvale but I was here from 2009-12.
"I was here for the floods and I was here for the storm."
Ms Koimans has participated in Mates4Mates, initiated by RSL (Queensland), which provide rehabilitation programs for current and ex-serving ADF members who are wounded, injured or ill, and their families.
People can support Mates4Mates online at: mates4mates.org/