Far from family for festive season

Lance-corporal Kane Ritchie, of Dunedin, is part of the New Zealand Defence Force's Operation Crib in Afghanistan, where he spent Christmas. He is a a crew commander working with the New Zealand fleet of LAVs (light armoured vehicles, below) in Afghanistan. Supplied photo.
Lance-corporal Kane Ritchie, of Dunedin, is part of the New Zealand Defence Force's Operation Crib in Afghanistan, where he spent Christmas. He is a a crew commander working with the New Zealand fleet of LAVs (light armoured vehicles, below) in Afghanistan. Supplied photo.
While his family unwrapped Christmas presents in Dunedin yesterday, Lance-corporal Kane Ritchie was awaiting orders at the New Zealand Defence Force army base in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province.

The 23-year-old is halfway through a seven-month deployment to the war-torn country, his second in which he spent Christmas with about 150 others at the Kiwi defence base.

Lcpl Ritchie is a crew commander working with the New Zealand fleet of LAVs (light armoured vehicles) as part of Operation Crib.

He spoke to the Otago Daily Times from Afghanistan about spending Christmas away from home.

''Christmas is usually pretty good here. They put on a good feed at the mess with secret Santa and other activities. There is also a church service if you're that way inclined,'' he said.

Although Lcpl Ritchie was not likely to be patrolling on Christmas Day, traditional New Zealand holiday pursuits such as non-stop cricket were probably out of the question.

''It's actually been quite cold here at the moment and looks like it could snow,'' he said.

Half a world away, in Dunedin, his parents and brothers were gearing up for a much warmer holiday.

But Lcpl Ritchie said he did not mind being with fellow soldiers over the Christmas and New Year period.

''The group you work in gets quite tight, so it's not too bad spending the holidays away from home. It's all part of the job,'' he said.

Lcpl Ritchie's first deployment to Afghanistan was in October 2009 and lasted about six months.

The former Otago Boys' High School pupil followed in his father's footsteps and joined the army when he was 17 years old.

His younger brother Josh (21) has also joined the NZDF.

Kane's mother Sharon said Christmas would be quieter without him, although it was not unusual for the family to be separated at Christmas.

''With three family members in the army, we are no strangers to having a loved one absent over a holiday period, but endeavour to make contact with each other on or close to the day and ensure plenty of Christmas treats are put in the post,'' she said.

rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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