Photography: Corina Carli
Photos: Corina Carli
Corina Carli was in the middle of Mother’s Day lunch when the mother of two received a message that she was being deployed overseas for the first time.
It was 2006. Riots had broken out in East Timor and the Australian army was called in to return stability to the troubled country. The Signal Corps Major’s role was to lead an advance team that established critical IT logistical systems that supported the arrival of Australian troops.
“I literally skipped dessert and went straight to the office to start mobilising people,” she recalls. “I flew to Darwin the next morning and arrived in Timor the following day.”
Corina’s youngest daughter had just started primary school. That deployment was the first of many to come throughout her 27-year military career, notably serving overseas with Operation Anode in the Solomon Islands, Operation Astute in Timor Leste, Operation Catalyst supporting combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Operation Accordion in the Middle East, where she ended up in Kabul.
"I had a ritual with my girls when I was going away. As I put them to bed we’d say, ‘Goodnight, love you, see you in the morning,’ but they never knew what morning they’d see me. It might be in a week or a month, but they knew that one day they’d wake up and I’d be back in the house."
Military life was everything the fresh-faced schoolgirl dreamed of when she enlisted at 19 years-old. It was also where she met her husband, Mark, who was a sergeant with the 6th Signals Regiment.
However, balancing family life with the demands of deployments to the world’s hotspots was tough, and she often found reintegrating into family life quite challenging.
"Mark was incredibly supportive, but he was basically a single dad. The expectation is that once you’re home you pick up life where you left off, but it’s not like that, it takes a while to readjust."
“Mark was amazing, he’d give me some breathing space to settle before I had to start making family decisions, but it was hard on everyone.”
Now 52, Major Carli and her family are welcoming a new research project commissioned by Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs looking at the impact of service life on families and relationships.
The Strengthening and Protecting Veteran Family Relationships is looking at programs or services that aim to strengthen couple relationships where one (or both) partners are current or ex-serving Australian Defence Force members.
“There’s been a lot of research that suggests all relationships go through difficult times, but when you are partnered with, or you are serving or a veteran, you might face additional challenges and pressures through the unique nature of military service,” says Dr Jody Hughes who manages the Defence and Veteran Families Research team at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Dr Hughes is inviting serving members and veterans, including ex-partners, to participate in the research project and share their experiences to inform future support services better.
“We want to get a sense of what’s valuable to people, how they can best access any support programs whether they are at home or on deployment, and what services will be most beneficial,” she says.
Major Corina Carli was medically discharged from the Army in 2018 and still suffers the effects of PTSD from her service. She says that although she wouldn’t change a thing, and would wholeheartedly encourage others into a defence career, she emphasises the need to be fully aware of the impact service life has on relationships and families.
“Service life is not a regular family environment, but being a mother or a parent or a partner doesn’t stop because you are overseas, and it can be hard.”
If you would like to participate or would like more information about the study, email; email@example.com
If this article has raised any concerns for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are a current or ex-service member of the ADF or a family member of a veteran, you can access free and confidential 24/7 support from Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046.
If you have other support needs, you can reach out to your closest RSL Sub-Branch or contact RSL Victoria’s Veteran Central service on 1300 645 838 for support.