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Military pilot and political scientist Jorik ter Veer: ‘I work with the invisible heroes of society’

Not your typical student life but training that demands sheer hard work: that was the choice Jorik ter Veer (now 45) made when he signed up for the Royal Military Academy. Later on in life, he studied Political Science in Leiden. How does he look back on his studies and student days?

At 17, Ter Veer applied for the rigorous selection process for the Royal Military Academy in Breda. Initially rejected because of a ‘shy personality’, Ter Veer challenged this decision (backed by 50 supporters) and was admitted to the programme after all. His studies at the Academy were a world apart from typical Leiden student life, ‘I lived in a small room at the academy, went to classes and on exercises or could be found playing sports. But there was also time to relax with a drink at the Cadet Corps.’ After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he started his pilot training.

Academic development

‘By now I was working as a pilot within Helicopter Command but the desire to develop academically never went away’, says Ter Veer. He started studying political science in Leiden in 2002 but exercises and deployment at home and abroad forced him to choose the real world over the academic one. He was deployed on various missions in war zones.

‘I’ve got so many amazing memories of all my experiences as a pilot. I learned to fly in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and later, as a captain, I was able to apply these experiences to very complex missions in the mountains of Afghanistan.’

‘I was responsible for our safety, the families we were trying to help in Afghanistan and our families back home in the Netherlands’

Airman’s Cross

For one of the missions in Afghanistan in 2009, Ter Veer was awarded the Airman’s Cross. This is a military decoration awarded to Dutch Air Force pilots for acts of initiative, courage and endurance. ‘Wonderful recognition and appreciation for the work we did there with the Air Force. I was a pilot and was also the leader of the helicopter unit that supports all kinds of operations. I didn’t do this alone, of course, but I was responsible for our safety, the families we were trying to help in Afghanistan and our families back home in the Netherlands. This balance of different interests and emotions is intense, especially when you consider I was just 30.’ Ter Veer has fond memories of these times. ‘They were the greatest missions of my life and I am very proud of them. The award is the cherry on the cake.’

Invisible heroes of society

He cannot openly discuss all the missions. But together with his colleagues from the armed forces, Ter Veer does want to talk as openly as possible about the work they do. ‘There are thousands of men and women in the Netherlands who put in such a tremendous effort to serve Dutch interests. But few people see and are aware of this. I work with the invisible heroes of society.’

From pilot to Central Staff

In 2011, Van Veer transferred to Central Staff at the Ministry of Defence in The Hague, enabling him to resume his studies in Leiden. Political science was the logical option, given his policy work and connection to the world of politics and governance.

‘As well my work, I had lectures on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and wrote my papers at the weekend. I immediately applied the knowledge I gained to my work, and vice versa. About how the Netherlands operates in the world, how aspects of governance work and the role of media in politics. I wrote my thesis on the influence of social media on elections, which was just emerging at the time.’

Ter Veer has since become department head at the Ministry of Defence and spends his time developing policies and plans, at both the military deployment and administrative levels. He often thinks back to what he learned during his studies, particularly to cast a critical eye on documents and avoid jumping to conclusions. He no longer flies: he is leaving that to the younger generation.

‘Chase your dreams’

Ter Veer can give dozens of examples of cool, exciting, wonderful and sometimes profoundly sad experiences he has been through. He wants to reach the young generation with these stories and encourage them to follow their dreams and ambitions. ‘Never give up. I didn’t. Not when I was initially rejected for the Military Academy. Nor during difficult missions. Not even when I failed to complete a master’s degree the first time around. Finding other ways to achieve your goal can get you very far in life.’

Jorik ter Veer with a helicopter

Text: Jip de Bloois
Banner photo: Ministry of Defence

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