Corporal Willie Apiata says he will not leave the military entirely and will remain with the Special Air Service (SAS) Reserve Forces.
Through a Defence Force statement today, Apiata confirmed he had sought a release from the SAS.
"This has been a decision that I have not taken lightly and it is one that has taken me many months to make. I am leaving to pursue my goals and to grow with my family,’’ he said.
"I am very proud of my service with the NZDF and I am very grateful for all of the support I have received from the NZSAS and the NZDF.’’
The man often described as a reluctant hero had decided after 10 years in the elite Special Air Service (SAS) it was time to move on to a new phase in his life, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said today.
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."
Apiata had give "excellent service" to the Defence Force, Coleman said.
"We wish him well with his future endeavours."
Apiata received the Victoria Cross in 2007 for heroics in Afghanistan in 2004 after he rescued a fellow soldier "in total disregard of his own safety" while under fire.
He carried his wounded comrade across a 70-metre stretch of battle zone, fully exposed to heavy enemy fire. He then re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.
Apiata was in the headlines again in 2010 when photographs by French photojournalist Philip Poupin were published of him and other SAS troops in the thick of a deadly gunfight in Afghanistan.
Publication of the photographs, taken moments after a battle that left three Taleban militants dead, prompted an international outcry and shocked the Victoria Cross recipient's family.
Prime Minister John Key revealed that Apiata was 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 dedicated a big part of his career to the Army and the SAS, he said.
"We wish him all the best."
Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, said in a statement Apiata advised the Defence Force several months ago of his intention to leave. He would remain a member of the Defence Force's Reserve Forces.
"Since the award was announced on 02 July 2007, Corporal Apiata has worked extremely hard to discharge his new responsibilities as a public figure, while also maintaining his role as a member of the New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment," Jones said.
"The NZ Defence Force thanks Corporal Apiata for his significant contribution and wishes him well with his future career."
Apiata was born Bill Henry "Willie" Apiata in the Waikato town of Mangakino on June 28, 1972. He has three sisters and spent his early childhood up north in Waima before his family moved to Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty when he was seven.
Apiata attended Te Whanau-a-Apanui Area School in Te Kaha but he left on the day of his 15th birthday. He enlisted as a territorial soldier in the New Zealand Army in October 1989.
From July 2000 to April 2001 he served in East Timor as part of the United Nations' operations there.
On his return he became a full-time soldier. He joined the Special Air Service (SAS) in November 2001 after he tried, but failed, to join in 1996. As a Lance Corporal, he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007.
He affiliates to the Ngā puhi iwi through his father. His home marae are Tukaki Marae at Te Kaha and Ngati Kawa Marae at Oromahoe, just south of Kerikeri.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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