The International Veterans Association (IVA), now formally launched in Phuket, is the brainchild of British expat Steve Pearce of Heroes bar in Patong. Steve, who serves as the IVA’s inaugural president, is a veteran of almost 32 years of military service and security operations in some of the most hostile regions of the world. He is now a Phuket business owner and family man.
Unlike days of yore, when veterans associations provided a venue of mostly ageing ex-servicemen, Steve points out that “veterans” today are much younger, and have a lot to offer.
The IVA aims to provide a social and business networking opportunity, meeting regularly and hosting social get-togethers so that members can share their experiences and explore new ventures, yet among its primary purposes is to provide a ‘signpost to professional help’ for members, explains Steve.
“The IVA members are veterans or serving members of any nation’s armed forces or emergency services. The IVA is self-funding, and in no way attempts to copy or take away the work done by the other veteran charities and groups.
“The IVA is apolitical and non-religious, though members will be encouraged to represent the association at Remembrance and Anzac services,” he adds.
“Having a business and social networking group for veterans allows us to keep an eye on each other too. Mental health issues can arise at any time in a veterans life. We aim to watch out for each other and those around us. At the same time, we can promote each other’s services and businesses,” says Steve.
Defence Attaché at British Embassy in Bangkok, Colonel Roger Lewis, who has signed on as Patron of the IVA says plainly in his official letter of support, “It is my distinct honour to be Patron of the International Veterans Association – Phuket, Thailand, and to lend my support to a brilliant idea. Bringing together those that have served, whether in the military or the emergency services, to assist each other and to continue to support the wider community is a noble cause.
“There is a natural affinity between service people that is hard to define but ’those who know, know’. You can bump into a complete stranger in an entirely new place and instinctively know you have a shared heritage. Before long, the banter will surface, the competitive spirit will show and the sense of purpose will materialise. Equally though, you may recognise that something is just a little off kilter. Something sitting not quite right with your new acquaintance or perhaps even with a friend of far too many years. One of the key purposes of the IVA is to provide an opportunity to discuss the good and the bad with people who intuitively understand where you’re coming from,” Col Lewis notes.
“The signpost service will be able to gain legal and visa advice, as well as promote services from other veteran organisations. Veteran or not, nobody seeking help will be turned away.” Steve adds, noting that members can be residents of Phuket or service personnel just passing through.
Yet Colonel Lewis points out clearly that the IVA is “not, however, just about talking; it’s very much about doing too”. Officially only weeks old, the IVA already has laid the foundation for its own Disaster Relief Team (DRT) “to exploit the skills that veterans generally arrive with”.
The IVA’s official motto is In Omnia Paratus, Latin for ‘Prepared For Anything’.
Highlighting the international essence of the IVA, the disaster relief and humanitarian team Lead Coordinator is Kevin Mansfield from Australia, the DRT Chief Instructor is Brit Jon Walsh, and the DRT Operations Manager and IVA Vice President is Henrik Oesten from Denmark.
“A Disaster Relief Team (DRT) of volunteers will receive general training and training updates. There have been several disasters and emergencies here since I arrived. The expats always step forward to help. The plan is that we should be able to step up as an organised and lead group, with our capabilities known to the local commanders,” explains Steve.
The DRT already has been working with veteran-owned company First Aid Training Phuket on getting first aid training into schools.
"Owners Jon and Lisa have been excellent advisors and instructors on this project,” says Steve. “The DRT Chief Instructor [Jon], and his company ‘First Aid Training – Phuket’, will arrange and run first aid courses and mental health workshop sessions for members starting early March.”
However, Steve notes, “Some equipment is required to make the DRT work properly. Although we are self-funding, we do need some limited financial assistance. Sponsoring by funding, or donating some equipment is the best way to help us. If you or your organisation are willing to help, I can forward the equipment and pricing list to you.”
The IVA is gaining momentum. More than 20 companies have joined the Association Members Support Scheme, and are offering discounts on products and services to members. These include, hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs, car hire, legal advice, dive company, gym, and spa. The list will be expanded upon this year, Steve adds.
On the official front, the initiative has also gained support from Paul Kaye, Consul-General at the British Embassy in Bangkok, and from Col Stephen Fomiatti, Australian Defence Attachè, Thailand.
Locally, the IVA has also received open support from Martin Carpenter, British Honorary Consul for Phuket, and Matthew Barclay, Australian Consul-General for Phuket, as well as Jason Beavan, General Manager of Class Act Media, as Media Sponsor and champion of IVA projects.
“The IVA is an excellent initiative,” Mr Barclay noted. “The Australian Consulate-General in Phuket is very proud to support its formation. Phuket is home to an array of veterans (and visiting veterans) from various countries and military operations and having an organisation like this is a natural and welcome step
“A local organisation where veterans can share experiences, seek support from those with similar experiences and give back to the community will be a valuable resource into the future. I applaud Steve Pearce for his tireless work so far and encourage those looking to connect with other veterans to reach out to the IVA,” he said.
Getting in touch with the IVA is a simple affair. “Socially, we plan to have an association breakfast club, held at Dee-lish restaurant and bar at Hemingways Silk Hotel. This will be held on the first Saturday of every month from 10am,” he adds.