A contingent of troops was sent to Afghanistan unprepared for deployment because of the defence force's involvement in the Rugby World Cup, an inquiry has found.
Fairfax Media has learned that a Court of Inquiry into the death last year of former Linton soldier Corporal Douglas Hughes, 26, found that because of the NZDF's involvement in World Cup security in September and October of 2011, training for the group, known as CRIB19, was reduced from the standard five weeks to just three.
The inquiry found that meant certain training standards were not achieved, including stress management and identification.
The inquiry found that Corporal Hughes, who took his own life, was dealing with emotional issues, including struggling with his sexuality, but that the lack of training did not contribute directly to his death.
A Sunday Star-Times investigation found the soldier took his life in Afghanistan just hours after confessing his feelings for a male colleague of junior rank.
The soldier died despite being in the care of his sergeant, who at one point frisked him for a weapon.
Corporal Hughes' family believe the death was preventable.
They believe he was bullied because he was gay and that his death, early on April 3 at the forward patrol base Romero in Bamiyan province, raises questions about frontline attitudes to gay soldiers.
The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, said they were disappointed the Star-Times had ignored the directions of the coroner, who had had ordered a prohibition on "publication (of) all evidence including the report of the Court of Inquiry, in the interests of justice and on the basis of personal privacy".
General Jones said the Defence Force had tried to work closely with Corporal Hughes' family and in accordance with their wishes.
"The wishes of the family . . . was not to publicly comment on this case, and to allow the family the time and space they needed to come to terms with their loss and grief," General Jones said.
"We provide personnel deployed on operational missions psychological and physical health support before, during and after their deployment."
On CRIB19's training, it is understood a nursing officer and a senior medic received a rushed hour-long presentation on critical incident stress management on the flight from Auckland to Darwin.
The nursing officer was spoken to about Corporal Hughes' problems, but advised he was not at risk of harm.
The inquiry found the warrant officer in charge of the training was not confident that CRIB19 was adequately prepared, but felt he had no choice but to deploy the force.
Because of the World Cup commitment, the inquiry found, the deployment was two months longer than the standard deployment of six months, but there was no provision for leave breaks to take that into account. Consequently, some CRIB19 personnel were exhausted at the end of the tour.
The inquiry recommended having a leave break halfway through a deployment if it extended past its normal length.
The inquiry also found that a request was made to Defence Force headquarters for more medical training resources at Romero but no budget for that was available.
While that had no impact on the standard of care for Corporal Hughes, the inquiry found it "did make continuation training in theatre, an essential activity, harder to achieve".
The revelations come after it was revealed last month that a report by a sergeant in military intelligence into the pre-deployment training of the CRIB20 contingent that followed Corporal Hughes' deployment was also deficient, with problems around command, logistics and planning. That contingent lost five soldiers in two attacks.
Labour's defence spokesman, Phil Goff, said pre-deployment training was critical to the safety and wellbeing of personnel deployed to dangerous areas. "Now we've had from two consecutive deployments reports that raise concern about the quality of the training given.
"The idea that [CRIB19] didn't get adequate training because of a Rugby World Cup just seems unacceptable and bizarre."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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