East Timor stint finishing

JIMMY ELLINGHAM IN EAST TIMOR
Last updated 12:00 09/11/2012

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Palmerston North soldier Manu Ferguson is about to finish his second stint in East Timor and would love to stay on if only his wife and family could join him.

The warrant officer, who is normally a catering manager at Linton Military Camp, is coming towards the end of a 15-month stint as a logistics adviser to the East Timor military.

While most Kiwi soldiers were to return home today, as the country's active military presence in East Timor has finished, a group of five will stay on to provide assistance and guidance.

Warrant Officer Ferguson is one of those and the Manawatu Standard visited him this week in the town of Metinaro, not far from the country's capital, Dili.

Metinaro is hot and flat, but home to some scenic and seemingly deserted beaches. The water looks blue and the sand is a glistening white.

Warrant Officer Ferguson next month finishes a 15-month stint there, but said he would love to come back if he could find some way for his family to accompany him.

"I don't actually want to go home. I want to stay another year, but my wife would have something to say about that."

His role includes helping the East Timorese military with organising basic training courses in areas like mechanics, computers and welding.

Recently he spent time travelling the length and breadth of the Southeast Asian nation to assess the local military's resources and equipment.

This week he was supervising the construction of a grandstand at Metinaro's football field - a patch of scorched and bumpy earth on which the two sets of goalposts are the only way of differentiating the pitch from its parched surrounds.

A decade ago Warrant Officer Ferguson served in East Timor after New Zealand troops went there in 1999 when pro-Indonesia militias failed to accept the results of a referendum when an overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted for independence. "By the time I got there in 2002 it was pretty secure. I'm a chef by trade. I worked to support the infantrymen."

The country had changed for the better since then, and since more instability between 2006 and 2008. There had even been development during the past 15 months.

"When I first got here you could see there's been a bit of a scrap. You'd go around Dili [and see] all the infantrymen."

Warrant Officer Ferguson credits his Maori blood for helping him get on with the Timorese, saying the two cultures share customs.

Warrant Officer Ferguson could now hold a basic conversation in the local tongue. "I've been here a year now. They trust me. I've started to get the language around my head," he said. "But I can't wait to get home and see my family."

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He was also missing watching rugby - back home the self-described "rugby freak" would regularly attend Manawatu Turbos matches - although during last year's Rugby World Cup he got into Dili to watch the big matches.

Most of Warrant Officer Ferguson's free time was now spent at the gym or snorkelling.

Warrant Officer Ferguson's wife said the latest deployment had been hard on her and her children and overseas postings were disruptive.

"I'm a working mother. I just get on with what I need to do. That's my husband's job and I've got to respect that," she said. But the "army family" offered support, phone calls and regular contact to help those remaining at home.

- Manawatu Standard

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