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Career

Army widow Tina Grant's mission to help others with their grief

Still struggling to deal with her own grief in the months after her husband's death, Tina decided she had a role to play in helping other military families with their losses.

It was a Wednesday when Tina Grant excitedly phoned her husband Doug in Afghanistan to say the offer they'd made on their dream Auckland home had been accepted.
From the end of the crackling phone line, the Special Air Services soldier shared Tina's joy at the prospect of living rurally by the beach, where they could snorkel with their kids Jemma, seven, and Jaden, five.
On Thursday, the couple received an offer on their home in Palmerston North and Tina happily accepted it before booking the packers. The next day – a Friday in 2011 – Tina's "Dougie" was tragically killed.
The esteemed army corporal had been fatally shot by the Taliban as he attempted to save three British civilians and two Gurkha security guards at the British Council centre in Kabul.
Doug in Bosnia, 1993
As a boy, Wainuiomata-born Doug knew he wanted to join the military and in 1990, aged 18, he enlisted in the army with no idea it's where he'd meet his future wife, a bubbly brunette army medic.
Sharing her story about her beloved Doug in the lead-up to Anzac Day, Tina, 47, laughs as she tells Woman's Day how she attended a party at his house when they were 25, where they drunk "as soldiers do", then woke with hangovers and new-found love.
Five years later, after Doug's first tour to Afghanistan, they married in Tina's hometown of Napier, surrounded by pohutukawa trees, at the iconic Sunken Gardens.
As newlyweds, Doug and Tina moved from Auckland to Palmerston North so he could complete a building apprenticeship through Linton Military Camp, while she left the army to work as a primary school teacher. Daughter Jemma, now 14, and son Jaden, 12, were born before Doug returned to Special Forces work around New Zealand and the couple planned another move.
While Doug was away preparing for his second tour to Afghanistan, Tina found the perfect home in Auckland's Clarks Beach, on the shores of the Manukau Harbour.
"Doug looked over the house on his week off to see if it was sound," recalls Tina. "A couple of days after that, he left to go to Afghanistan."
Five days later, Doug was hit with a bullet that flew through the arm-hole of his body armour and pierced his heart. He died in the helicopter on the way to hospital surrounded by his colleagues, while more than 13,500km away, Tina baked for their kids' farewell party taking place the next day.
She recalls answering her phone to an unknown number and saying, "Hey babe, why are you ringing on this number?"
But the voice at the other end was a member of the SAS, who told Tina he was in a car at the base of her driveway with an army chaplain.
"I was confused and opened the door to see them both walking up in civilian clothes. They came inside and told me Doug had been killed.
"Somewhere between crumbling and crying, I was handed a cup of tea. Then the soldier in me took over and I realised I had to inform everyone who needed to know before the media got hold of it."
When Saturday morning came and the children woke up, Tina's mother took them to their much-anticipated farewell party at the swimming pools. When they returned, Tina met them outside and took them away from the visitor-filled house to the sleep-out, where she did the hardest thing she's ever had to do.
"I sat them down and told them their dad had died and wasn't coming home," says Tina. "Then we all cried while I consoled them."
One week later, Doug's body was brought home for his funeral and a week after that, Tina and the children moved to Auckland – despite family and friends advising them to stay.
Tina explains, "It was what Doug and I had planned to do as a family. The children knew we were going and they'd had their farewell, so it was the next chapter of our lives."
Months after Doug's death, with her grief still heavy, Tina was in the middle of a lonely depression when she sent a proposal to the Defence Force.
It addressed a hole she felt existed in the military's handling of grief-stricken families, once the funeral was over and the wealth of support subsided as everyone returned to their daily routines.
"I believed there was a gap in our system and support should be longer than the funeral," she tells.
Remarkably, the proposal was accepted and Tina stepped in as Liaison Officer for Families of the Fallen while, elsewhere, the New Zealand Fallen Heroes Trust was established soon after Doug's death to financially support families affected by the loss of a loved one while on deployment.
Tina, who assists families like herself as well as soldiers with post traumatic stress syndrome, was awarded the Distinguished Service Decoration last August for her work.
Still living in Clarks Beach and newly dating someone from the military, Tina says she feels humbled.
"I was blown away by the award because I was just doing my job," she concludes. "I'm still in and around the military because I believe that what we do is for the betterment of others. I feel it's what I'm put on this earth for."

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