Role-playing prepares military for Afghanistan

BY MIKE WATSON
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2009
BUILDING RAPPORT: Warrant Officer Norbert Thaler tries out his negotiating skills with Major Brent Smith, dressed as a village chief.
ANDREW GORRIE/ The Dominion Post
BUILDING RAPPORT: Warrant Officer Norbert Thaler tries out his negotiating skills with Major Brent Smith, dressed as a village chief.

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Waiouru's sub-zero temperatures and the green paddocks of Rangitikei are helping New Zealand Defence Force's provincial reconstruction team prepare for the next deployment to Afghanistan.

The 147 personnel leave for their base in Bamyan, a province the size of Taranaki, in about six weeks and will return in April.

As well as a big contingent of soldiers providing security, they will build roads and clinics, dig wells and teach the locals sustainable agriculture.

This week in Waiouru the team have been doing role-playing exercises using stand-in actors as local tribesmen, playing out meetings with the PRT engineers in a tribal village scenario.

Vinegar Hill campsite in Rangitikei deputised for the scene of a village meeting.

Lieutenant Geoff Peters, who was on the last six month deployment, said the isolation would be the hardest obstacle for the team. This is the 15th rotation for the team in Bamyan.

"The locals are friendly, they are used to us but there is always a lot of tea and talking. A lot of patience is needed, which we are good at. We are there to build relationships."

Commanding officer Colonel Martin Dransfield said the team would help local police take responsibility. "We are highly respected for the way we do things there, and we have a very good rapport with the locals."

Lieutenant Rosie Mercer, a qualified civil engineer, will lead the road-building crew.

A Territorial Force officer for seven years, she was looking forward to the adventure. "The last three months of training have been interesting getting up to speed. "I know it could be dangerous but there is also the chance to make a huge difference to people's lives over there."

There will be much logistical problem-solving involved. Less than three kilometres of roads in Bamyan were sealed, she said.

Temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees celsius in winter, and top 50-plus in summer. The deployment has spent nights camping near Tukino ski-field to help acclimatise.

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