Bay of Plenty man Timi Rae joined the New Zealand Army to test himself and has just faced his biggest test so far, on his first overseas deployment working with personnel from other countries in Camp Taji in Iraq.
Private Rae was a member of the ninth New Zealand Defence Force contingent to be deployed to Camp Taji, where they worked with Australian Defence Force personnel to mentor Iraqi soldiers. The contingent returned to New Zealand last week.
About 46,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel have been trained by the NZDF/ADF Building Partner Capacity mission since 2015 and over time the focus has shifted from training soldiers to mentoring trainers in the Iraqi Security Forces.
Private Rae, who grew up in Maketu and attended Te Puke High School, joined the Army three years ago.
One attraction was that he already had strong family ties to the military, with both of his grandfathers and a number of his extended family serving in the Army and Royal New Zealand Navy through all of the big wars New Zealand has contributed to.
“Their jobs ranged from frontline Infantry soldiers in the trenches to high-ranking officers in charge of communications throughout the Pacific,” he says. “I have been proud to carry on their legacy.”
However, he also saw Army life offering opportunity and direction.
“I grew up in a very rural area, with minimal opportunities to make a difference on a large scale,” he says. “I was quite a troublesome boy when I was growing up and it’s safe to say my life would be a lot different if it wasn’t for a few good members of the community who helped steer me in the right direction through my teenage years.
“I saw the Army as a good way to test myself, as well as to serve our people. My whole life changed the day I decided to join the Army and it has helped mould me into the person I am today.”
Private Rae is an Infantry soldier, who has also trained as a lead scout and in urban operations.
“My main role as lead or cover scout is to lead the section through whatever terrain we are operating in,” he says.
In 2017 he took part in Exercise Southern Katipo, New Zealand’s largest military exercise, which is held every two years in different parts of the country, and has also been deployed to New Caledonia and the jungles of Brunei.
"I also had the honour of being involved in the repatriation of the remains of New Zealand soldiers who served in Malaysia and Vietnam from Malaysia last year, which was very special,” he says.
In addition to the challenges of deployment, the camaraderie in the infantry has been a highlight of his career so far.
“You just develop such strong bonds with the people you are serving alongside, making what I am sure will be lifelong friends,” he says.
Private Rae was part of the force protection unit at Camp Taji, which meant he was responsible for helping keep the Australian and NZDF personnel safe while they mentored Iraqi soldiers.
“I just loved the experience,” he says. “Because of the incredibly hot conditions, with temperatures reaching 55 degrees, we started early and were usually finished training by lunchtime, which gave time for your own projects and development.
“We got to know some of the local people and heard their stories, and at the same time developed our skills in a challenging environment – it just doesn’t get better than that.”