War hero Willie Apiata leaves military

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 15:31 18/07/2012
Willie Apiata
ANDREW GORRIE/Dominion Post
WAR HERO: Willie Apiata received a Victoria Cross for his heroics in Afghanistan.

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New Zealand's only living recipient of the Victoria Cross, Corporal Willie Apiata, is leaving the military to work for an Auckland charity.

Prime Minister John Key has revealed Apiata is leaving the SAS to work for the youth charity High Wire Trust.

The Trust, which has an outdoor pursuits centre in Papakura, helps at-risk young people.

"I'm sure he'll do a great job out there," Key said.

"He'll be a great role model for them."

Apiata had advised the Defence Force several months ago that he intended to leave the regular force but he would remain a member of the reserves.

The man, often described as a reluctant hero, had decided after 10 years in the elite Special Air Service it was time to move on to a new phase in his life, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said.

There was no suggestion he was disillusioned with life in the Defence Force.

"It's always time for reflection when someone leaves but hey, people leave the Defence Force all the time," Coleman said.

Apiata had given "excellent service" to the Defence Force, Coleman said.

"We wish him well with his future endeavours."

He won his Victoria Cross for saving a wounded comrade under fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

He is the first and only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, which was introduced in 1999 to replace the British Victoria Cross which had previously been awarded to New Zealand military personnel for outstanding gallantry.

Jones said since the award was announced in 2007, Apiata had worked extremely hard to uphold his responsibilities as a public figure, while at the same time remaining a member of the SAS.

"The Defence Force thanks Corporal Apiata for his significant contribution and wishes him well with his future career."

Jones said the Defence Force would not disclose details of Apiata's new role or the date he would be officially released from the Defence Force.

Apiata had asked for his privacy to be respected as he made the transition from military to civilian life, he said.

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