Someone’s brothers, someone’s sons

Below is the text of an address delivered by former Sergeant-Major of the New Zealand Army, Bob Davies, at the Onward Bar in Taupo on ANZAC Day 2021.

“This morning I will to relate to you an action that upheld the finest traditions of one of the New Zealand Army’s premier fighting units, the 1st Battalion, the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, the only battalion that has added a Battle Honour to its colours since World War 2. Unlike most stories this Anzac Day though this is not one about combat in far-flung fields. It is a story that played out very close to here some thirty years ago. A story as epic as any that will be told this Anzac Day and unfortunately a story too few in New Zealand know much about. It is a story about two senior soldiers and another young man who demonstrated they are cut from the same cloth that the finest of this Regiment has seen. These soldiers were involved in an incident that claimed more lives than any other single action since WW2.

On the morning of Thursday 9 August 1990, 10 soldiers from B Company, 1 RNZIR, together with a Naval rating and two instructors from the Army Adventurous Training Centre, commenced a mountaineering course on Mount Ruapehu. 13 personnel departed Waiouru Camp that morning. Only seven returned.

The weather on the 9th of August was very good, with clear skies and light winds. The group spent the first day, a Thursday, climbing to the summit and conducted some practical training.On Friday, the group spent the day constructing two snow caves and a snow dome and then slept that night in those shelters. The next morning, Saturday, the weather deteriorated significantly, with very strong northerly winds and very low visibility. The group remained sheltering in their snow caves for a second night. On the following day (Sunday), the decision was made by the instructors to move back to the Dome Shelter. It was from then on that serious difficulties began to develop.

On leaving the shelter of their snow caves, the group was exposed to the full force of the storm that had now developed. Visibility was reduced to a few meters and the wind had significantly increased to an estimated strength of around 150kph; strong enough to lift members of the group off the ground. The decision was made to halt and attempts made to dig trenches and use the packs to provide some shelter from the wind. The group was now on the flat Col, approximately 200 meters from the Dome Shelter; probably the most exposed position on the mountain at that time.

After remaining in this location for two to three hours, a second, unsuccessful attempt was made to find the Dome Shelter. It was then that the first hypothermic cases became apparent. The group stopped whilst casualties were attended to and attempts were made to construct a snow shelter. This proved impossible due to the ferocity of the storm. The group then attempted to “dig in” in that location. At this point, two members of the group were hypothermic, one was suffering from frost bite and a number of others close to exhaustion. A decision was made to seek assistance and the senior instructor, Sgt Snowden, together with Pte Brendon Burchell, departed down the mountain. The time was now approximately 1630hrs.

Throughout that night, the storm continued with the same ferocious intensity. By this time, the soldiers were without any experienced leadership, as the lone instructor left on the mountain had become non-effective. Ptes David Stewart and Sonny Te Rure (now known as Sonny Tavake) constantly moved about the group, offering encouragement and attempting to alleviate the suffering by giving over some of their own clothing and equipment. They were assisted in their efforts by LCpl Culloty and Pte Berger.

In the words of LCpl Culloty “….word filtered back that an instructor had gone for help and for the remainder to break out their sleeping bags. By the time this reached Pte’s Stewart, Tavake, and myself, those that were able had done so, however 3 – 4 soldiers displaying signs of hypothermia, were incapable of this. We gathered them into a group and Ptes Stewart and Tavake went in search of packs to get the sleeping bags out. This was no easy task as visibility was near zero and many packs were buried in snow that became ice in a very short period or had blown away. Each time a sleeping bag was found, they came back to the group and took one away and put him in a sleeping bag as best they could.

They left finding sleeping bags for themselves until last. They came back to find the last person there (myself) had collapsed. Pte Stewart dragged me to a bag and managed to get my legs and lower torso into it. He then put a survival bag around my upper body. There was by then only one sleeping bag for Ptes Stewart and Tavake as no other packs could be found. They covered themselves as best they could.As the night progressed the direction of the wind changed constantly, resulting in large amounts of snow building up on my chest then freezing solid. As the weight increased, I began to have difficulties breathing and called for help. Pte Stewart leaned over and eventually was able to clear the snow and ice off my chest allowing me to breathe normally. He did this approximately six times during the night. Later, a soldier not far from me had his bag blown away and I got him to join me, and in doing so, my survival bag blew away, so we used the remainder of my sleeping bag to cover our heads and shoulders.

Later a soldier from the end of the group crawled over and said that the person he had been sharing a bag with had died. We told him to go back, remove the body from the bag, and get in, and he left to do so. He then came back and said that he could not find his sleeping bag (I assume it had already been covered with snow). He asked if he could join me and the soldier with me, and I told him no, as there was no room and that he should find somebody with a bag to themselves. He returned a short time later having found no shelter, and again asked for help. At this point, Pte Stewart told him to join him and Pte Tavake in their single sleeping bag. In doing this, their sleeping bag was blown away and the three of them were without any shelter whatsoever.

After this, we began to grow weaker and weaker. The soldier who had been with Ptes Stewart and Tavake crawled over beside my head and began talking incoherently and died. Some hours later the soldier who was sheltering with me became delirious and died also.After many hours, when I occasionally called out and received no reply, I assumed that all but myself had perished. Later the weather, though still extreme, lessened in intensity for a while and I made contact with others and we were subsequently rescued. As we were brought into the Dome Shelter, I was surprised and pleased to see Pte Tavake, and we were both shocked that only five of us had survived. It seemed impossible that Pte Stewart, given his physical and moral strength, leadership and selflessness, should have died.

I have no doubt in my mind that if he had chosen to take care of himself he would be here today. He chose instead to put others before himself and to risk time and again, his own survival to help those unable to help themselves. All this in an extreme environment where we novices were left to our own devices. I would not be here today but for his actions. That is the man he was.

Around 0530hrs on Monday Sgt Snowden and Pte Burchell having walked some 13 hours through the night, made physical contact with an Alpine Lift staff member who contacted the Duty DOC Ranger. The search and recovery then commenced. The first recovery team reached the Dome Shelter at approximately 1300hrs, and on finding nobody there, descended to the Col where they located the group. They found only 5 survivors who were then moved to the Dome Shelter.

In due course a Court of Inquiry was established to investigate the loss of life. Among other findings, the Court noted the “outstanding courage and bravery” shown by a number of the group, namely Ptes Stewart, Tavake and Burchell. In the case of Pte Burchell, the Citation noted that “..Private Burchell not only had to cope with the most extreme conditions but, because of his lack of experience, he had no knowledge of how to overcome them. His courage and determination and perseverance to continue in the face of extraordinary adversity not only brought great credit on himself, but certainly assisted in the rescue of the survivors…” The Court recommended they be formally recognised with an appropriate bravery award. In the case of Stewart that was to be with the award of the George Cross. Under the imperial honours system then extant, the level one award, and now the New Zealand Cross. Some nine years later Ptes Stewart, Tavake and Burchell were finally awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal, a level 4 award, the lowest that recognises bravery. Of significance, the Citation noted that, despite the dreadful conditions, “…Privates Stewart and Tavake maintained a continual vigil over their companions throughout most of the night, providing what assistance they could.” The Citation further noted that “.. Private Stewart would have been fully aware that his actions in continually moving out of shelter and the warmth of his sleeping bag to assist those with hypothermia, meant he had an increased chance of also becoming a casualty. He was also aware that he was becoming increasingly exhausted by continually battling the elements.” It added that “Privates Stewart and Tavake displayed selfless care of the casualties and their sense of responsibility to their companions testify to their bravery”.

It is also worthy of note that both Stewart and Tavake had spent most of their soldiering in the tropical conditions of SEA from which they had only relatively recently returned. Moreover, these soldiers battled the life-threatening conditions for almost two days without concern for their own safety. In doing so Stewart died and Tavake still suffers from the effects of severe frost bite.

The following are so far the only two recipients of the New Zealand Cross:

On 24 April 1992 Jacinda Margaret Amey was one of five members of a Meteorological Service team, stationed on the remote sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, who were snorkelling when one of them, Mr Mike Fraser, was attacked by a shark, believed to be a white pointer. The other swimmers, apart from Ms Amey, swam to shore. Ms Amey waited until the shark moved away from Mr Fraser and then went to his aid and towed him to shore. Mr Fraser had lost his right forearm and his left forearm was severely lacerated and appeared to be broken. He was having trouble breathing and required urgent medical treatment. Having got him to shore, Ms Amey then joined the rest of the team in doing what they could for Mr Fraser until he could be flown to New Zealand. Ms Amey displayed great courage and bravery with complete disregard for her own safety in going to Mr Fraser’s assistance.

And the second recipient:

On 9 June 1995, Reginal John Dixon, aged 47, and his wife were passengers on Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 when the aircraft crashed in the Tararua Ranges near Palmerston North. Mr Dixon escaped from the wreckage with fractures. However, despite his injuries, he returned to the aircraft to help other passengers trapped in the wreckage. As a result of this selfless action, he was critically burned when a flash fire broke out on the left wing of the aircraft near a hole in the fuselage from which he was helping passengers escape. He was hospitalised and underwent surgery and skin grafts. Mr Dixon remained in a coma, and although he made some initial improvement, his condition worsened and he died two weeks later, the fourth victim of the crash. The situation in which Mr Dixon found himself was extremely dangerous and he displayed great bravery in returning to the aircraft, although injured, to help other passengers which subsequently resulted in the loss of his own life. His bravery undoubtedly ensured that the loss of life was not greater.I ask you were David Stewart’s actions over almost two days not equally as heroic as these two New Zealand Cross recipients? If so why then was he not appropriately recognised with a level one award.

There was another climber on the mountain that day, a Japanese George Iwama, who remained there for 5 days during the same blizzard. He related: ‘There was a white-out and terrible freezing conditions 20 or 35 minutes after I left the snow cave… ‘I couldn’t locate where I was walking and I decided to dig another snow cave.’ He of course survived.

I ask you: was it that the award of the New Zealand Cross would have brought undue attention to the very real shortcomings of the New Zealand Army and its Army Adventurous Training Centre?

I’ll let you decide.

The latest Listener has an excellent 5 page article on this tragedy by Karl Du Fresne.

More to follow…

A Warrior Passes

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Last weekend, Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina passed away at his home in Waiouru. Known to many as Graham Wi or just Wiina, Graham was a friend, colleague and mentor to many of us. He was laid to rest yesterday.

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One of the many tributes to Wiina, said that this video montage was one of his favourites – as it will be for many who passed through the gates of Dieppe Barracks in the 1980s although it might be entitled The Usual Suspects

I’ve taken the liberty of including some of the tributes to Wiina to illustrate the man and the effect that he had on so many…

Hey brothers. We carried our bro into the Wharenui at the Waiouru Marae and he looked so at peace after his years of silent suffering. For those of yous that haven’t seen him for some time, he progressively got worse over the years. Spoke to his brother and mum, as sad as it is, it was a blessing in disguise and he is now at peace back with his whanau in the sunny far north. He will have a catch-up with his long lost bro Andy Warren in heavenly peace. ONWARDS brothers.

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Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina, I have been thinking all week about how you have influenced my life, and finally I know what to say. Long before I became a father, you explained and showed me what fatherhood actually meant. Little did I know at the time, that conversation would shape my understanding of parenting. There were many other snippets of gold in my memories of you Cpl Wi (Cpl at the time), but to me, this was undoubtedly your greatest impact on my life. I will be forever indebted to the interest you took in helping mold who I am today.

I am sorry I cannot be there to say farewell, but I will certainly be charging a very full glass of Rum to you….many times. Take it easy Wi, thanks again and RIP.

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Chur whanau just arrived back from Wi’s tangi and I can report that things went really well. Soldiers, whanau and friends came together…we sang, we laughed, we remembered, we haka’d, we had orders, we had confirmitory orders, we rehearsed, we got cheeky, we got angry, we took a spiritual journey to Te Reinga, we had the meanest weather, and we comforted one another.

Although it was a collective effort lead by capable men and women, a big mihi goes out to the bro Soli! Nei ra te mihi atu ki a koe te kaihautu o te waka nei. The spirit of Ngati Tumatauenga is well and truly alive…mai nga piki me nga heke we will always stand tall in the face of adversity. If I can sum it up in one word “SPEECHLESS”!!

E Winar, okioki i te atawhai o te Atua bro…till we meet again dear friend.

Te taimana whero
Taimana ki runga
Taimana ki raro
Taimana i te kura takahi puni

Whakamua! ONWARD…

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Wiina’s generation shaped the New Zealand Army for the better part of three decades, and through that interface, they were also a formative influence on large parts of New Zealand society at all levels. If one word could sum up this generation it would be ‘standards’ – a closer runner-up for those who know them, might also be ‘mischiefs’…

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Many of ‘the usual suspects’…

I don’t remember when I first met Graham Wi, as I knew him, it would have been as a very junior soldier in 2/1 RNZIR in Burnham or 1 RNZIR in Singapore some time in the mid-80s. But my most memorable recollection of him is from 1 RNZIR after it relocated from Singapore to the Manawatu in 1989. I think it was 1993 or ’94, and responsibility for conducting infantry corps training (infantry specialist training after recruit training) had passed to Alpha Company, 1 RNZIR. To regenerate the battalion’s numbers a lot of infantry soldiers had been recruited but the recruit depot in Waiouru was unable to handle the numbers and issued an ultimatum to the effect of ‘…you want them trained, you come and train them…’ As a result, 1 RNZIR sent a platoon commander, platoon sergeant, and some corporals to Waiouru to train a platoon’s worth of infantry recruits. Graham Wi was the that platoon sergeant.

When these young soldiers passed out of their recruit training and arrived in Linton, we were all struck by their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards – read between the lines, and you might gather that not all the products of the recruit depot at this time were as impressive. Then we started to to hear whispers from Waiouru that the 1 RNZIR training team that we had sent there might not have played by the PC rules and perhaps some of the recruits had been mistreated i.e. that their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards might be more due to fear than the infantry ethos and culture.

I asked Graham about it directly. His response was a disdainful glance north (towards Waiouru) “…Nah. All we did was introduce these young men to the concept of standards and the principle that those standards weren’t coming down to meet them…we set the bar and they all came up to it…it IS that simple…” In the months we worked with those young soldiers, that message came through again and again…they were there because they wanted to be there…they sought challenges for the satisfaction of overcoming them…

Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina’s generation taught an army to do the job right (regardless of your personal opinion on whether it needed to be be done or not), to be an example to yourself and those around, to fault-check and get the detail right, to push on that little bit further, over just one more false crest…

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Onward, old friend…

A man and his dog

REID, Piers Martin. CBE, DLitt(Hon), MDefStud, Reg.No.U30723, Major General, of Palmerston North.

Some sad news in the inbox last night as Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies announced…

It is with sadness that we advise that a friend, colleague and mentor to staff and to many students over the years, Major General Piers Reid, passed away at 21:00 (9.00pm) on 2 October 2012.

A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Piers served a double-tour in Vietnam, and then proceeded to advance to Chief of Army. He was with our Centre for more than a decade, including Director in the first half of the 2000s, after which he continued to lecture in defence studies and military history until this semester.

Some weeks ago, Piers was diagnosed with a serious illness (cancer). At his and his family’s request, this information was not distributed widely, and so we were not in a position to use Stream to advise people of his illness. Piers remained independent until the end, and his death was dignified and peaceful.

Friends are invited to attend a service for Piers at the Beauchamp Crematorium Chapel, 167 John F Kennedy Drive, Palmerston North on Monday October 8th 2012 at 2pm.

Piers Reid succeeded Tony Birks as Chief of General Staff just after I was commissioned. Almost his first act in the job was to scrub the previously approved  proposed new service dress for the Army which a. made my life as the new SO3 Clothing really interesting and b. was probably quite a good idea as I am not sure how how long the Zoot Suit Riot look would have remained in vogue before it just looked silly…the service dress that the Army wears today, more traditional in both style and colours, is the result of that decision.

Noting that nowhere in a general’s job description does it say anything about making a young lieutenant’s life easy, seeing the clothing projects through to completion  in his administration was not too burdensome and never dull nor boring.  Before anyone starts bleating about ‘loggie generals’ let’s not forget that this ‘loggie general’ signed off on an awful lot of good kit for soldiers including:

  • Decent combat boots
  • DPM combat clothing that didn’t change colour between batches or like like it was an end run from some third world banana republic army.
  • Mustang knee-length Goretex socks.
  • Running shoes  as an entitlement for all soldiers putting an end to the need for soldiers units with a higher requirement for physical fitness having to buy their own.
  • Reflex wet weather clothing designed by Kathmandu (apologies to all the self-appointed experts out there but at the time this was a better performer than Goretex.
  • Windproof Ventile smocks.
  • Nomex fleece fleece jackets that wouldn’t burst into flame as soon as a lit cigarette or Hexi cooker looked at them.

Not a bad legacy for just a ‘loggie general’….

He also brought back the classic peaked cap for officers – for a whole six months until his successor killed it off again…

In the course of these projects, I got to know Piers Reid quite well, learned of his time in Vietnam, a story not well known but probably not mine to tell…it turned out that we both loved military music and I recall one afternoon  chatting with him at the rehearsal for the Remembrance Day Service in Wellington Cathedral – the band struck up Scipio, the traditional slow march and , as the introductory drum roll ended we both smiled sheepishly as our right legs reflexively shot forward for the first step of the slow march – Scipio for those not in the know starts with two drum roles, the ned of the second being the cue for soldiers to commence marching, using just the beat of the drum to stay in step…

Even those I was never any drill maestro, we did have drill down to an art form in those days, often just working off cues in the music as commands and that memory from that day in the Cathedral is always the one that springs to mind first when I think of Piers.

I would see Piers from time to time when I was working at Massey and it always struck me how fit and well he looked and so it is all the more a shock to hear that he has passed away so quickly…

Man Down

Some of Bruce’s boys…Signals Platoon Christmas Function, Coes Ford, 1986…

It is with great sadness this morning that I note the passing last night of Bruce Rosser, RNZIR. The word had only gone round the old boys net last week that Bruce was pretty crook with cancer and I was planning on writing to him or shooting over to New Plymouth to see him. Some of the lads did go round to see him at home yesterday morning…I can only agree with what others posted after the visit

” …now that’s what the NZ Army is all about. I can tell looking at all the body language you guys would have had him laughing ……. good on you all. You guys make me proud!!!

… I hope I have friends like this when its my time. Can’t believe there is nearly 150 years of military history in the room. (good and BAD history that is)…

People have commented over the years on how unusual it is that we can not see someone for decades and then carry on the last conversation we had way back then. It’s not that unusual really, just a sign of a community with a highly transient population that is constantly shifting around between postings, courses and deployments.

It was long, only a few hours later that two new messages were posted…

…Guys, only just got back from Brucies place, he past on at 1815hrs tonight. As his “boss” Susie said to me, he just said” I’ve had enough”, and signed out a short time later. So glad the local boys spent time with him this morning, all our aroha to Susie and the children at this time. Will keep all updated on this means…

“…MAN DOWN: NEWS has just com through from the Rosser family that bruce passed away approximately 30 mins ago. God bless you our brother. Deepest thoughts to susie and the family…”

Bruce was our platoon sergeant when I was posted to the 2/1 RNZIR Signals Platoon in 1986, on graduation from Corps Training and after a brief foray into the Mortar Platoon (too much maths for me). He came across as gruff and grumpy as sergeants generally do but was firm but fair as the good ones are and in the same vein fiercely looked out for his troops and went to bat for us on a regular basis. Sometimes that was because soldierly enthusiasm had gone astray (Burnham weekends revolved around the Baggies, the Melly, and ‘town’ – all fine upstanding institutions) but equally as often to right some wrong or get something working.

I think of Bruce on an almost daily basis…every time that I cut a corner on the road, I think of Bruce admonishing me to “…use the whole of the road…” on one of the many trips that members of 2/1 would make through the Lewis Pass. On this particular trip, I was driving ‘the Sarge’ in a V8 Landrover (sounds cool but not one of the Army’s bigger success stories) and he was getting frustrated that I was one of those ‘crank it on the straights, brake it on the corner’ drivers – possibly because my cornering kept waking him up! So for the new few hours, I got some very pointed one-on-one driving instruction that has stuck with me for the last quarter century – all about making the best use of the road available to you…

I think that trip was either going to or returning from the Women’s National Golf Tournament where the sigs provided comms and progress reports from the greens back to the club house. It was a bit of a break for us and a welcome change from Lake Brunner in winter where we did a lot of our training. Through the power of sergeants (like the power of Greyskull or Green Lantern but better and bigger), Bruce had arranged for us to stay in a cheap motel in Nelson for the duration and that our time was our own out of working hours so long as…we avoided certain pubs…everyone was good to go each morning…Bruce didn’t get any calls from the Police or the boss…big boys rules. It was a great week and while my memories of it have faded, my memories of that driving lesson from ‘the Sarge’ is as vivid today as it was back then…I can still see Bruce, in his DPM smock squinting across the Landrover at me “…boy, are you sure you’ve got a licence to drive?…

I don’t recall ever having a  platoon or company photo while I was in 2/1 and so when I searched through the archives at home for some images from those days, the cupboard was rather bare – certainly there are no official photos that I have and no personal one with Bruce in them. The photo above is from our platoon function at the end of 1986 and shows a few of us that Bruce looked after so well…

These two reprobates weren’t in the Signals Platoon although, like everyone else, they wanted to be…but this pic from Ex LOTHLORIEN 1986 shows the bikes and V8 Rovers that Bruce tirelessly made sure we looked after and kept all our paperwork and maintenance up to speed. This would be a part of battalion headquarters and one of our bikes being stolen in this pic – aside from the Sigs who held it all together, battalion headquarters was full of dodgy sorts…

I don’t think that I ever saw Bruce after he was posted from the platoon – I think that he went to a cadre role in one of the TF units – and that’s why I was quite looking forward to seeing him again when we heard that he was ill last week…

Peace be with you, Sarge…no more pain where you are…

ONWARD

Age shall not weary them

I started work this morning, only to learn that three more Kiwi soldiers have been killed in Bamiyan Province when the last vehicle in a convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Bamiyan, north west of Do Abe on the road to Romero about 9.20am on Sunday (Afghanistan time).  The remaining personnel in the patrol secured the location and awaited additional support. A second bomb was found and defused.

Many people are sharing a quote from US Army Major John Hottell, who was killed in Vietnam…it sounded familiar and I found a Time article that concludes with that quote:

…you have five in a row from the class of ’64. One belongs to John Hottell III – a Rhodes scholar, twice a recipient of the Silver Star – who was killed in 1970. The year before, he had written his own obituary and sent it in a sealed envelope to his wife. “I deny that I died for anything – not my country, not my Army, not my fellow man,” he wrote. “I lived for these things, and the manner in which I chose to do it involved the very real chance that I would die…my love for West Point and the Army was great enough…for me to accept this possibility as a part of a price which must be paid for things of great value.

Some day I might copy the whole article in here but that’s not appropriate today…in getting my head around these losses in Bamiyan, I did come across the site from which I borrowed the image above…the author talks about memories of ANZAC Day and the simple act of placing an RSA poppy on the cenotaph, one of the many scattered across this nation, reminders of those who did not come back from the nation’s struggles…

Leading from the Front

Major Wilson pictured here in 2010 speaking with then Defence Minister Wayne Mapp. (c) Dean Kozanic

The following statement has been issued by the New Zealand Defence Force on behalf of Major Craig Wilson, the officer commanding Kiwi Company at the time of the gun battle with insurgents in Bamyan, Afghanistan, on 4 August.
“I am writing this statement for release to the general public. Until I am well enough, these words will have to take the place of me speaking directly.

“All six of us wounded personnel are incredibly pleased at the way LCpls Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were honoured by their Army units and the nation more generally over the weekend. We are thinking of Rory and Pralli and it gave us great comfort to see them appropriately honoured.
“Our first thoughts are with the families of Pralli and Rory and I look forward to meeting the families in person on my return to New Zealand. I appreciate the support being provided to the families of our fallen, which I know will be coming from so many compassionate people in the country we serve and love.
“We are very much thinking of the Durrer and Malone families and their friends, as well as the families of all the guys still out doing the job in Afghanistan. We really appreciate the support of the New Zealand public, and I am hopeful that that public support will be ongoing to the families of the men and women still delivering the mission in Afghanistan.
“With regard to the other injured men of Kiwi Company, I have been very proud of their conduct. We have tried to be as strong as possible. I am sure I speak for us all when I talk about the support we have received.
“This initially came from our mates on the ground, who in some cases risked their own lives to get us out of immediate danger and provided immediate first aid. Then from our medics – who have been consummate professionals all tour and stood up yet again.
“Finally, from our headquarters and support personnel who brought all the external support to bear that we needed; who made the best of what was an incredibly difficult situation; and, as always, made the troops on the ground feel supported.
“I would like to also publicly praise the coalition troops who responded in support of the situation – especially the MEDEVAC helicopter pilots and crews who are some of the most skilled and brave unsung heroes of the Afghan theatre.
“Thanks also goes to the many coalition medical teams through the chain of evacuation that in some cases saved our lives. In all cases they made us feel safe and secure. The public of New Zealand should know that these Dutch, German and American medical teams treated us like their own countrymen, working tirelessly and with great skill.
“I would like to thank our military leaders and their staff back in New Zealand, who through their hard-working liaison officers have made us feel as though heaven and earth is being moved to keep us supported, and getting us home to our families quickly, where we all want to be. We look forward to reuniting with our family and friends, getting our medical treatment finalised, and getting back on with things just as soon as we can.
“With regard to the incident itself, I and the other wounded look forward to formally passing to the New Zealand Defence Force, at the appropriate time on our return, the knowledge and detail of this battle that we possess. This battle was very fast, very complex, and came down to a pitched gunfight where the insurgent force had many advantages over us at that moment. The full story is yet to be pieced together.
“Judging by the nature of my wounds, my days as an operational soldier are probably over but I will continue working for my soldiers now and over the next while to ensure that they are accredited the respect and recognition that their actions in Bamyan deserve.
“While this was a major combat engagement, it is what our men and women work and train for. I know Kiwi Company will have continued on committed to their work in Afghanistan because they are a professional group, and that’s what soldiers do. 
“Finally, I wish to thank the public of New Zealand for their support of all our service personnel on operations everywhere. It is really important to us, especially when times get tough.”

About the incident:
On 4 August, Kiwi Company came to the support of the Afghan National Directorate of Security who were under attack by insurgents. The NDS sustained two deaths and a further 11 personnel, including one civilian, were wounded. The New Zealand Defence Force sustained two deaths and a further six wounded.

About Major Wilson:
Major Craig Wilson was shot in the shoulder and received multiple wounds to his lungs, ribs, collarbone and shoulder-bone, as well as artery and tissue damage, and has lost the use of his right arm. However, doctors anticipate that he will regain some if not all function after likely many months rehabilitation. All of Maj Wilson’s wounds have been effectively treated, except the nerve damage where treatment/rehabilitation will commence after his return to New Zealand.
Maj Wilson is a married father of three, who lives in Burnham.
In 2007, he received the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration – NZGD – for events while serving with the New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan in 2004.
The NZGD is the third-highest military decoration for New Zealand. It is granted in recognition of ‘acts of exceptional gallantry in situations of danger’ while involved in war and warlike operational service.

fly further on to the stars, friend

I got a call from Rowland Harrison at Hawkeye UAV yesterday to tell me that retired naval aviator, Carroll LeFon, aka Neptunus Lex, had been killed flying a F-21 at NAS Fallon.

I never met Lex but corresponded with him a  couple of times after Rowland introduced me to his blog in 2009 and always found his blog an insightful perspective into the world of military and general aviation, also also into his ‘take’ on world events. In my ever so humble opinion, one of the better blogs around and certainly an inspiration for the rest of the military blog community.

A Personal Note from Secretary Ray Mabus

By Whisper, on March 8th, 2012

I mourn the passing of a great naval aviator, a professional analyst of all things naval, and a soulful and compelling writer of poetry and prose – Ray Mabus, SecNav.

cross-posted at Naval Institute blog

The Navy Times story that broke the news:

Crash kills pilot who blogged as Neptunus Lex

By Joshua Stewart – Staff writer

Posted : Wednesday Mar 7, 2012 13:13:46 EST

Retired naval aviator Carroll LeFon, perhaps better known by the nom de plume Neptunus Lex, was killed in a plane crash Tuesday morning when his F-21 Kfir crashed at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., his blog confirmed.

LeFon, 51, retired as a captain in June 2008 after serving as an instructor at Top Gun and in various positions at several strike fighter squadrons.

In his civilian life, LeFon worked for Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., a contractor that operates simulated enemy aircraft with which student aviators train. But as a prominent military blogger, he was part analyst, part cheerleader, part critic and part poet who wrote about the Navy, his family, the military and global affairs with the casual tone, frankness and familiarity that flows through ready rooms. His sea stories were personal memoirs as well as parables.

ATAC and Fallon did not return calls for comment. The cause of thecrash is under investigation.

LeFon began blogging in 2003 during the early months of the invasion of Iraq. Like many other military bloggers, he initially wrote anonymously — it was and still can be problematic for service members to openly publish opinions.

Besides writing for his personal fulfillment, he tried to counter media reports that would tax the military’s will to fight, said Cmdr. Chap Godbey, a blogger, foreign area officer and the author of one of the dozens of tributes to LeFon to hit the web as news of his death spread.

“He was a guy who was able to put out the truth, put out first-hand reporting from folks and put out things that would not have gotten out any other way,” Godbey said.

LeFon’s blog chronicled his own experiences in the Navy, his transition into retirement and his second career in the civilian workforce.

He was thrilled to fly Kfirs as opposition forces because it meant that he would continue to operate one of the world’s most advanced jets, Godbey said.

The joy of having a second chance, not being over, that’s a big thing for fighter pilots, because once you’re done, you’re done. And that change hits people pretty hard,” he said.

Originally from Alexandria, Va., LeFon earned his commission through the Naval Academy in 1982.

“To this day, I cannot see the academy’s chapel dome in the distance without checking my watch to see if I am late, and wondering whether I am going to be in trouble,” he wrote in one of his posts.

He reported to his first squadron in the fleet, Strike Fighter Squadron 25, in July 1987. “Here is where I discovered that despite being the only male child in my family, I had twelve brothers,” he wrote.

Several other billets involved training, including a tour as an instructor at Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as Top Gun. He was the executive officer and later commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 94. He was with that squadron from June 2001 to July 2003.

Along the way he deployed seven times, serving on the carriers Constellation, Independence and Carl Vinson. He earned two Legions of Merit, two Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal (Strike/Flight Award), two Navy/ Marine Corps Commendation Medals and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

He leaves behind his wife and three children, including a son who flies MH-60S Seahawks.

Married to the best girl I ever met, who also delivered up three wonderful children. Don’t really know how I could be happier, or more blessed,” he wrote.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sunset

I guess the trick in this week’s challenge is to know whether a pic is really sunset or someone slipping in a dodgy sunrise…

But Sunset has another significance for soldiers, more than simply the going down of the sun and the closing of the day but a time to remember those who have gone before and sometimes to also mark the end of an era…here Sunset is a sad but beautiful tune played during Beating the Retreat as the flag is lowered…

This photo was taken on July 20, 1989 at the closing ceremony for the home of the First Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, at Dieppe Barracks in Sembawang, Singapore. The following month, in our own version of East of Suez, the battalion and its supporting force, began its relocation back to New Zealand, ending 32 years of continuous service in South East Asia.

As the battalion marched off that parade ground, a place of so many memories, for the last time, the roll of honour of those who had not gone home was read – a particularly sad moment for many of us as we had lost a number of friends through accidents in that last tour…remembering is particularly poignant here at the moment with the news on Wednesday of the death in combat of a second NZSAS soldier near Kabul…

Michael Yon wrote this on 24 September after a young soldier from his tent in 4-4 Cav was killed…

This whole tent is empty now. Chazray is gone and his buddies must be checking their emails in another tent. There were two more KIAs who were shot and so the internet was blacked out. One was shot in the chest and the other in the stomach. Very saddening. Families have been notified and so the internet is back on. It’s strange to see Chazray on the news and then look over at his empty cot and see his picture taped to the door. The video says he ran over the IED but he actually stepped on it but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he is missed by so many people.

While a soldier can always be replaced – no one is ever indispensable – the gap they leave is a different story altogether…the empty bed space, the position in the Prezzies rugby team, that spot in the bar where they always sat, the spot in family photos where Dad should be…

I didn’t know LCpl Leon Smith who was killed during a pre-emptive operation against insurgents near Kabul last week. I did know Cpl Doug Grant who was killed a few weeks earlier while doing the business against insurgents in Kabul. I remember him as a young soldier, third from the right in the back from of this photo, quiet and professional with the burning desire to learn demonstrated by many young soldiers of that period – when the camp library was shifted to a new building around that time, someone did some analysis of library loan patterns and found that the large proportion of professional military book loaning was done by JNCOs and soldiers, creating more than few ripples in the pond – the sort that so often answer a higher calling and earn the sand beret and winged dagger…in Dougie’s case, going back for a second time…

We are the Pilgrims, Master…We shall go always a little further…It may be beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow…Across that angry or glimmering sea…

Sunset can mean so much more than the simple disappearance of a ball of burning hydrogen and helium…

Dear friends and loved ones

Karl, Carla‘s partner, has shared with those who could not attend her service, the eulogy that Carla prepared before she passed on…

Dear friends and loved ones

As I contemplated this memorial service, I felt great gratitude in my heart that each one of you would be here to say good bye to me.   Many of you have shared your kindness, warmth, and love with me during these last several months.   I would like to say thank you and also share with you the lessons I have learned through my experience.

I have profoundly experienced that love is all that matters.  Like many people I occasionally had gotten caught in my pettiness and selfishness, thinking I always knew the right answer.  While I judged others, I have also judged myself even more harshly.  But what I have learned is that we carry within ourselves an abundant wisdom and love that allows us to heal our weary hearts and judgmental minds.

During the time of my illness I have learned to love more deeply than ever before. My heart feels as if it has exploded. I do not hold or carry any anger. I feel that we are all doing the best we can.  Judging others only closes one’s heart, and when time is limited, that is a waste of precious sharing.  Life is how we stand in relationship to both ourselves and others.  Loving and helping each other is all that is important.

There is certain naturalness to the cycle of life and death, and for whatever reason it is my time to pass on, even though I am young. It is ok.   It is right and natural. Life is not about how long we live, but how we live, and I have had a good life.  I accept my passing as part of the wondrous process of life.

My sadness is that I am leaving you.   I will miss the deep comfort and love of gently waking up in Karl’s arms.  I will miss Michael waking me up for blueberry pancakes and not being able to fulfill our future dreams together.   I will miss the sunny days of fishing with Karl and barbequing with Justin.  I will miss giggling with my sister over life’s little impasses.  How appreciative I feel when I think of my sister’s faith and how she always encouraged me.

As I lay here I think of all of you, each special in your own way. I have loved and shared this life with you.  I reluctantly give up walking on this beautiful planet where every step is a prayer.   The glistening sun on the trees, the sound of a brook as it makes its way down a mountain, the serenity and beauty of a gentle snowfall, sitting staring at my garden and catching a glimpse of eternity, these are the things I have loved.

Whenever a difficulty presents itself think of it as a gift, something begging to be seen or understood.  Try to find your own way to trust in God.

I ask you to take care of your health you are riding around in this incredible vehicle. It is not only respectable but critical if you are going to fully enjoy the ride.  No matter what state your health is in be grateful.  There are lessons to be learned even in illness.

I believe in order to fully understand ourselves to grow, grieve, change, and fully enjoy life we must fully open our hearts to others.

I have tried to be a good friend to all of you. I have tried to bring something into this world that may no longer have my name on it when I leave, but has brought comfort, encouragement and a spark in to your lives.   I am very grateful that you all have loved me.

Please do not think that I have lost a battle with cancer, for I have won the challenge of life.  I have shared an unconditional love; I have opened to the mystery of the Holy Spirit and feel that divinity is around us every day.  It provides us with a path on which our spirit may take flight.

Chief Crazy Horse said upon his final battle “it is a good day to die because all of the things of my life are present”.   That is how I feel as I think of the abundance, adventure, opportunity and love in my life.  When you think of me know that my spirit has taken flight and that I love you all.

Carla

Happy days

Tangihanga – Major M.M. Brown, RNZMP


Monique

…usually, one might use a title like this to remember a member of the old and bold who has passed on…Major Monique Brown of Waiouru died suddenly in Wellington on 14 February…although quite definitely bold she equally definitely wasn’t that old, certainly nowhere close to be the topic of an obituary.

Monique and her whanau were welcomed onto the Army Marae on their arrival from Wellington yesterday afternoon and a church service will be held at the marae this evening at 7pm. She will be buried with full military honours commencing with a service at the National Army Marae- Rongomaraeroa o Nga hau e Wha Marae- Waiouru on Friday  at 1100. The service will be followed by a burial at the Waiouru Cemetery. Dress for military personnel attending the tangi is Dress 1A, HMR. Light refreshments will be available at the WO & SNCOs’ Mess at the completion of the formalities.

Wow…Monique…gone just like that…Monique was a Kiwi who’d joined the Aussie Army (OK, no one’s perfect!!) and went to the Australian Defence Force Academy at Duntroon, graduating near the top of her class. I first met her int eh mid-90s just after she’d seen the light, come home and joined our own Army. At the time I was a fresh-as lieutenant and Monique was the ‘go-to’ captain in Army Headquarters. The whole time I knew her she was always bubbly and happy but damn professional as well – I suspect, although I never had occasion to find out personally, that ‘bubbly and happy’ could chnage very quickly if she felt that an individual was unreceptive to the ‘carrot’ approach…

One of the good things about a small army is that it’s easy to keep in touch with people and so Monique and I would bump into each other from time to time over the years. In 2007, she was posted up to Waiouru, ostensibly to work for me but I prefer to think if it as ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ – I was a newly minted major and she had some years seniority over me but never once saw fit to mention this but she managed to keep me on the straight and narrow and a jetted back and forth between my domestic responsibilities and those arising from CWID that year.  Around this time, Monique wrote a book for children, a family story about what her granddad did in the war – she was always concerned that the boys would know their heritage – and I’m very glad now that I took the opportunity to get a copy then: it’s on a shlef in our library waiting for a time when the twins are a little older. I was quite sad when she moved out to occupy the new simulation centre that she had built in Waiouru: very flash with two indoor twelve lane weapon ranges and 24 station simulation facility…A year later, she got the posting that was nearest and dearest to her heart and that was the defacto ‘Mayor of Waiouru’, responsible for support services for the camp. Monique was all about support…supporting her family, her friends, her work colleagues and all those in her little dependency in the Central Plateau…

At the end of last year, Monique had been posted back to line logistic unit and would have been just getting her feet under that desk…I remember seeing a mention on Facebook that she was moving south late last year and said to her that we’d have to ‘do lunch or coffee or something’ since we were both back in the Manawatu…too slow and now Monique’s made one last trip back home to Waiouru…

OK…LISTEN UP,  FRIENDS…NO ONE ELSE IS TO DIE THIS YEAR – THAT”S AN ORDER!!!!!