A Dunedin Sergeant's Christmas in Afghanistan

Sergeant Piripi Matthews, of Dunedin, (second from right) with other military personnel serving...
Sergeant Piripi Matthews, of Dunedin, (second from right) with other military personnel serving in Afghanistan, in the Kabul Military Training Area during an exercise with cadets of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. Sgt Matthews will be working on guard duty in Afghanistan on Christmas Day. Photo: Supplied
Father of four Sergeant Piripi Matthews, of Dunedin, has been serving with the New Zealand Defence Force in Afghanistan for six months. He tells  Samuel White what he’ll be doing this Christmas.

How long have you been with the NZDF?

I’m a reserve soldier from 2/4 Battalion in Dunedin and I’ve been in since 1999.

What are you doing and what is your role in Afghanistan?

I’m here as a mentor, same as Lieutenant-colonel Cory Neale, except I work with three sergeants — my equivalent rank — and I also assist with the team commanders as well.

The main role is to advise and assist them in their training of the cadets.

It varies what we do.

We go down and we catch up and see what the instructors have got planned for the day or the following day and we add any recommendations that they might have overlooked or add our advice to it.

We negotiate and if that fits with what they’re doing,  then we’ll go watch their lessons and provide feedback on their lessons, as well.

We also go out in the field when they do training outside and provide feedback on how their training is going there, as well.We also have to report on it, as well.

What are the conditions like where you are?

I came over in the middle of July. I’ve been away from home since the end of June. It was hot then. It was averaging about 36 or 37degC a day.

That lasted until about a month ago.It dropped to an average of about 11degC a day.

It’s pretty cold now.

There’s snow on the mountain and in another half a month there’ll be snow [to this level].It’s barren here.

I’ve been lucky enough to go out to another training areas.It’s probably similar to Central Otago. It’s just rocks and barren land.

What are the other personnel and other people like?

The people here are awesome.

They’re accommodating and always friendly and are inquisitive about our culture and where we come from.

It’s really good working with all the other nations. We learn a lot off them and the way they do things.

I work alongside a Danish captain and learn from him and the similarities between their army and our army as well.

He provides advice for me as I go along and I do the same for him as well.

So that’s good.

We always have a good laugh with the Australians.

They look after us when we’re down on the ground.

They’re a good bunch  of guys.

Our Afghan counterparts at the training establishment ... they’re relaxed, accommodating and they always want to have a good catch-up with us.

It’s really nice working with these people.

How will you be spending Christmas?

I’ll be out working on guard duty, as well as catching up with family and probably watching some YouTube videos.

Nothing too big.

The big thing will be catching up with family via Skype.

How would you like to be spending Christmas?

Of course, I’d want to be back there in Glenorchy with my family hunting and spending time with the kids, as well as catching up with my family who live up in Nelson and Motueka as well.

Is there anyone you’d like to send a personal note or shout out to?

To my wife and my four kids.I hope they have a really good day and enjoy being together with the family. I miss seeing the kids and them going through the milestones.

However, with the internet here I get to talk every day. . . so it’s not too bad with the communication.

Is there anything extra festive happening at base?

I think we have Christmas carols coming up ... We’ve got to wrap all the Christmas presents.

The place has got Christmas decorations everywhere.

We’ve got Secret Santa.

They’ve got a real festive spirit here. There are individuals within the ranks who drive it.

When was the last time you were home?

I went home last month, so I got to spend time with my family then and organised Christmas shopping then.

Do you keep up-to-date with the news?

I check the ODT and One News every day. I know more than my wife.

Anything you want to add about what you’re doing?

It’s a good opportunity and you get to meet some really good people.

Note: The interview with Sgt Matthews has been edited for clarity.


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