Band of Sisters with Audra Larkin

Meet the veteran still fighting for equality.

Thank you to Chrissie Russell and Woman’s Way Magazine for this interview.

When Audra Larkin puts on her uniform to parade for St Patrick’s Day in Delaware this year, she might be more than 3,000 miles away from Ireland, but it will feel like home. “Wherever I go, once that flag is back on my shoulder, that sense of pride is reignited, that passion,” Audra pauses. “It’s hard to describe but the word I always think of is ‘home.”

Born in Fort Camden in Crosshaven, Co Cork, Audra’s life was entwined with the military from birth. Her father served, as did her uncle and her husband.

“I was surrounded by military and immersed in the community,” explains Audra. “And, I know it’s a cliché, but my father was my hero in life, so to follow in his footsteps was something that made me really proud.”

For 12 years she served with the Field Medical Company before moving into a nearly 20-year-long career in addiction services at the end of 2001. In 2019, she joined the ONE – Oglaigh Náisiúnta na hEireann (or the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel) – where she recently made history by becoming the charity’s first female Veteran Support Officer (VSO) last year.

Much of the recent dialogue around women in the Irish Defence Forces has been negative, fuelled by a report by the Independent Review Group last year, which declared that women were ‘barely tolerated” in Ireland’s military and highly critical of the complaints system within the Defence Forces.

Audra’s story is a refreshing contrast to those more bleak reports, showing that, while undoubtedly huge issues persist and require urgent attention, the military can also be a welcoming place for female recruits.

“I think we can only speak our own truth and the truth for others is different – and I wouldn’t even attempt to speak on their truth only my own – and for me, serving absolutely 100 per cent made me the person I am today,” says Audra. “It gave me the skills, it developed me into the person I am today and I enjoyed every single minute, every minute was positive. I wish I could have bottled all those years and what it gave me. My commitment to everything in life, I think that was formed there.”

Her strongly-held belief is that the military, like any organisation, functions best when there’s gender diversity. She explains: “I think each person brings different skills, and those skills are married when you have that diversity in serving. The male soldiers bring their skills and experiences, the female soldiers bring their skills and experiences and when you bring those together – isn’t that an amazing bed of knowledge and skill to have?” Promoting this equality is something she feels is very much on the agenda for the ONE – and in 2021 she was part of another first for the veterans organisation. After realising there was no ONE branch in South Tipperary, Audra not only developed a new branch but was also involved in enshrining it in ONE history by making it the first branch to have all-female elected officers.

“The committee, the chair, the treasurer, the secretary – for the first time in ONE history it was all females,” she smiles. “They had the trust in us that we could lead out this branch and we’re still here, still leading it out.” But she still wanted to reach out to female veterans in other branches and bring them together in a shared cause, so in 2023, the Band of Sisters was born.

Bringing female veterans, their family members and other members of the ONE together, the group is a fundraising initiative to raise capital for much-needed ONE initiatives. In September last, 15 women aged between their early 30s up to late 60s, ‘rucked’ (walking in combats and boots, carrying backbacks) from Áras An Uachtarain in the Phoenix Park to McKee Barracks to attend the ONE Annual Convention in their ‘Rucking it to Convention event, raising over €3,000.

This year, 25 members of the Band of Sisters have committed to tackling the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon in June, but ahead of that they’ll be travelling to the States this month, flying the flag for the ONE and the Band of Sisters at St Patrick’s events in Delaware and Philadelphia.

While Audra is delighted to be representing our nation abroad, it’s the work being done on the home front that she’s most proud of. The ONE provides vital support for ex-service men and women across Ireland.

“When you’re a soldier for your professional career, you automatically inherit the tag of ‘veteran’ and it’s important we celebrate that within our communities and talk to our communities about what it means to be a veteran. We need to inform the public more about veterans and veteran issues because there’s a duty and responsibility to care for our veterans,” adds Audra.

“Whether you served 40 years ago or four years ago, you’re still part of a really exclusive family that you’re proud to be part of.”

About ONE Veterans Charity:

ONE’s primary objective is to support the needs of Irish veterans by the provision of accommodation to homeless and other veterans in need of such domestic accommodation in its Veterans’ Homes and the provision of other advice and support to veterans, in particular Mental Health advice, through its nationwide network of Branches and Veterans’ Support Centres. Visit our website for more info.

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