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Sergeant Smith leads delegation

As King Charles III’s coronation delivered a spectacle of pomp and circumstance to a global audience, it also provided a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience for Wairarapa’s own Sergeant Hayden Smith.

The former Wairarapa College student represented New Zealand this weekend as the flag-bearer of the nation’s delegation – including Prime Minister Chris Hipkins – in Westminster Abbey.

The recent recipient of the Distinguished Service Decoration [DSD] and member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force [RNZAF] described it as a surreal moment.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, something I never thought I’d be a part of,” Smith said.

“It was surreal walking into Westminster Abbey, given the scale of the event and the calibre of people who were there.”

Carrying the flag, and the burden of such an important role, Smith said it was imperative to maintain his discipline throughout and “keep my head to do what I had to do”.

“I feel incredibly humbled. I’m proud to be a Kiwi and represent the New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF].”

On the eve of flying to London, he said his Wairarapa family, were “over the moon” to hear of his role in the coronation and looking forward to seeing him on television.

“They’re going to stay up late. They’re very excited.”

With two brothers also in the RNZAF, it is a bit of a family affair, with Smith’s father Kevin saying they were all proud of him, and “the hard work he has done to achieve this”.

“The DSD is what got him there,” Kevin said.

A student at Wairarapa College from 2006-2010, Smith, now 30, received the DSD in the military’s recent New Year Honours for his work creating a classified data flow system.

According to NZDF, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the nation’s Five Eyes partners are currently using the system, which took the better part of two years to complete.

Smith began work on the project in September 2019, as a Corporal posted to the Defence Intelligence and was “solely tasked with creating the system”.

His New Years Honours’ citation said he personally solved a complex issue that Five Nations had been struggling to resolve – “Australia had a dedicated team of 40 working on the issue” – and enhanced NZDF’s reputation internationally.

Smith said he had limited knowledge and no formal training of the systems he was tasked to work with, and ultimately taught himself how to navigate them, adding that he was “gobsmacked” when he learned of the honour.

“There were times I didn’t think I’d pull it off, especially the first six months – it was like drinking from the firehose.

“I had no idea how a wee Corporal could solve this complex issue, especially being told that the other
partners hadn’t solved it fully.”

A feeling acknowledged by the honour, the citation for which said Smith “demonstrated competence well above what would be expected of someone of his rank and experience.

“Sergeant Smith is held in high regard by our international partners for his pragmatic and collegial approach to understanding complex environments.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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