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Whirlwind start off the mark

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Tim Gall and Minister of Defence Ron Mark ready to leave the Hood Aerodrome. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

CHELSEA BOYLE

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When Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy was unable to attend Exercise Southern Katipo last Sunday the country’s new Minister of Defence was quick to step in her place.

Deputy leader of New Zealand First Ron Mark, who holds both the defence and veterans’ affairs ministerial portfolios, said the opportunity was too good to miss and was only going to give one answer.

“And I said yes, thank you very much, let’s go,” Mr Mark said.

Exercise Southern Katipo is the New Zealand Defence Force’s largest military exercise – this one involved 13 countries including New Zealand.

“It’s all about testing and evaluating New Zealand Defence Force personnel and their ability to plan and conduct joint operations,” Mr Mark said.

“This particular exercise has a range of naval, land and air assets and about 3000 personnel involved.”

Mr Mark flew in and out of the Hood Aerodome to attend and was predominately briefed on operations, with discussions only touching on some of the strengths and weaknesses of some of the equipment.

Ron Mark in the NH90 helicopter with Major General Tim Gall. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Ron Mark in the NH90 helicopter with Major General Tim Gall. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

It was the earliest possible opportunity to meet troops and see them in action, he said.

He witnessed the embarkment of internally displaced people as the exercise played out.
“The scenario is quite complex… It is designed to test our ability to deploy at short notice to the aid of a friendly country.”

He was “thoroughly impressed” by the professionalism shown by personnel but also by the spirit of the local people involved, he said.

They helped “test the ability of the military to process civilians in such a way that they are culturally and diplomatically sensitive, but also protect themselves and others from harm”.

Mr Mark said the Defence Force had improved a long way during the past 10, 15, years in running joint operations, and a “stand out example” was shown in the medical area.

“We still have a way to go, but clearly the Defence Forces have recognised the importance of that out of lessons learned from East Timor, the Solomons and Afghanistan.”

Whether it was terminology or operating procedures, it was about making it so people can be “parachuted into another organisation and be able to be effective the moment they arrive”.

Mr Mark said he thoroughly enjoyed the day.

“That’s my home, they are family to me.”

He was looking forward to more opportunities to visit.

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