Colleagues farewell the fallen
The three New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Sunday knew their lives were at risk when they travelled to the war-torn country, but showed great courage in going anyway, one of their colleagues says.
Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, lance corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and private Richard Harris, 21, were all killed when their Humvee struck a roadside bomb in the Afghanistan province of Bamiyan.
Their New Zealand and international colleagues farewelled them in a ramp ceremony at Bagram Airbase last night, and their bodies were now on the way back to New Zealand, ahead of a final ramp ceremony in Christchurch tomorrow.
The brave soldiers' lives were taken far too soon by a "cowardly act", New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team senior military advisor Pete Hall said in a moving statement.
"I think of their families everyday, I am heartbroken for their loss and can offer little comfort other than to assure them that in honour of their memory, we the members of CRIB 20 will complete our task applying the values that Luke, Jacinda and Richard lived by," Hall said.
"I am a better man for having known them."
The trio displayed great commitment, courage and comradeship, values which were pertinent to the Defence Force and which all soldiers hoped they could live up to, Hall said.
"They were killed whilst undertaking a righteous and honourable endeavour assisting the people of Afghanistan to build a better place for the future - commitment;
"They deployed to a country in turmoil knowing that their lives would be at risk, but still they came - courage;
"They survived the Battle of Baghak where they fought honourably and bravely alongside their mates, tended the wounds of those that required care and arranged for their safe evacuation - comradeship."
The soldiers were part of a four-vehicle convoy which was transporting an ill colleague when their vehicle was struck by a bomb.
Hall said he took some solace in knowing that they died instantly and with no pain.
A national memorial would most likely be held on Saturday, Prime Minister John Key said earlier this week, but the Defence Force could not confirm when it would go ahead.