Army presence over and out

Mark Foster (left) and son Private Daniel Foster  with a Light Operational Vehicle (LOV) at the...
Mark Foster (left) and son Private Daniel Foster with a Light Operational Vehicle (LOV) at the temporary army base, the former Hunter Hills Lumber yard.
The New Zealand Army's Southern Reaper exercise concludes today with open days at the Oamaru Marist Rugby Football Club and Seddon Square in Waimate. Ben Guild toured Waimate with the army on Thursday to observe the exercise.

Since October 25, about 1100 New Zealand soldiers in green, brown and black camouflage have trained in and patrolled the countryside around Oamaru, Herbert Forest, Waimate, Waitaki Valley, Dansey Pass, Hakataramea Valley and Tekapo.

You could not miss them or the distinctive sound overhead of the Iroquois support helicopters.

They seemed to be everywhere at once in Waimate on Thursday. They visited school children, blocked off roads, conducted field exercises and stood resolutely on guard at the gates of an old lumber yard turned base.

Mobile showers at the temporary base. Photos by Ben Guild.
Mobile showers at the temporary base. Photos by Ben Guild.
The aim of the Southern Reaper exercise was to ready about 1100 troops for service in Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

The rolling deployments will begin in February or March and continue for about two years.

Lieutenant-colonel Stef Michie said the exercise, rescheduled following February's earthquake in Christchurch, was invaluable in training the troops to work around civilian populations.

It had been virtually ready to start in February, but soldiers, support staff and vehicles were diverted to help the stricken city.

The main aims of the exercise, aside from teaching soldiers how to detect and avoid improvised explosive devices (IEDs), was to practice combined missions in efficient, effective units.

Lt-col Michie was thankful for the "pretty positive response" from people across the districts.

Sawdust created an adequate base for soldiers living at the base.
Sawdust created an adequate base for soldiers living at the base.
The public had shown both generosity and tolerance since the exercise began, he said.

"You can't do these exercises in a really big city or town.

"We try to be good neighbours, but you can't drive vehicles like this around without causing a few traffic jams."

The army had even completed, to the farmer's pleasure, an accidental service by clearing up to 2sq km of tussock from Shortlands Station pastoral lease, about 5km north of the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, in a fire on November 4.

"It would appear it had started as a result of a battle simulation that was used to simulate an IED," Lt-col Michie said.

"I think it was the wind that did it. It quickly spread and got out of the capacity of the equipment we had. It drove it up the hill like wildfire, as they say."

Mother nature, in the form of snow and sleet, resolved the incident that night, to the relief of the army and the delight of the farmer, Lt-col Michie said.

The logistics of the exercise were staggering. The 3rd land force group from Burnham, the 2nd land force group from Linton and an air force contingent of 3rd squadron Iroquois helicopters from Ohakea Air Base had converged on the South with light armoured vehicles (LAVs), light operational vehicles (LOVs), unmanned aerial command systems, mortars and artillery firing 105mm and 81mm shells.

Mobile kitchens, workshops, medic stations, showers and caterers accompanied them, essentially making the army self-sufficient.

The Waimate base alone had two catering units, each of which could cater for 250 soldiers.

Each unit went through 250kg of potatoes, 85kg of sausages, 80kg of saveloys, 220 litres of milk and 9000 litres of water every four days.

Mark Foster, who does mapping for the Waimate District Council, assisted the army by providing information on areas ideal for training purposes.

Sergeant Geoffery Smith estimated three to four businesses in the area had facilitated training exercises, while 15 to 20 private residents had provided premises.

Mr Foster, whose son Private Daniel Foster (23) has already served a six-month stint in East Timor, and will likely be redeployed to Afghanistan if he gets his driver's licence, was enjoying his time with the army.

"It's been a pleasure doing this; just learning a little more about what my son does," he said.

Lt-col Michie, who served in Afghanistan several years ago, admitted that war was not a popular one in many quarters.

"Personally speaking, I enjoyed working with Americans.

"They were very dedicated and professional ... very generous, too."

In a sense, politics and soldiers did not tend to mix, he said.

"The funny thing as soldiers is, you understand that they are just people doing their jobs.

"If you object to it, you shouldn't be in the army."




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