War hero Willie Apiata leaves military

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 17:51 18/07/2012
Willie Apiata
ANDREW GORRIE/Dominion Post
WAR HERO: Willie Apiata received a Victoria Cross for his heroics in Afghanistan.

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New Zealand's only living recipient of the Victoria Cross, Corporal Willie Apiata, says his decision to leave the military was not taken lightly.

Prime Minister John Key today revealed Apiata was leaving the Special Air Service to work for the youth charity High Wire Trust.

In a statement, Apiata confirmed his departure, saying he was leaving ‘‘to pursue my goals and to grow with my family''.

‘‘This has been a decision that I have not taken lightly and it is one that has taken me many months to make.''

Apiata said he was ‘‘very proud'' of his service with the New Zealand Defence Force and was ‘‘very grateful'' for all the support he has received by the service and the SAS.

"I do not intend to leave entirely as I will remain with the NZSAS Reserve Forces.  

"I ask the public and the media to respect my privacy and that of my family and friends at this time,'' he said.

Key said he was sure Apiata would do a ‘‘great job'' at the Trust, which helps at-risk young people.

"He'll be a great role model for them."

Apiata had advised the Defence Force several months ago that he intended to leave the regular force.

The man, often described as a reluctant hero, had decided after 10 years in the elite SAS it was time to move on to a new phase in his life, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said.

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," Coleman said.

Apiata had given "excellent service" to the Defence Force, Coleman said.

"We wish him well with his future endeavours."

He won his Victoria Cross for saving a wounded comrade under fire in Afghanistan in 2004. He is the first and only recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand, which was introduced in 1999 to replace the British Victoria Cross which had previously been awarded to New Zealand military personnel for outstanding gallantry.

Jones said since the award was announced in 2007, Apiata had worked extremely hard to uphold his responsibilities as a public figure, while at the same time remaining a member of the SAS.

"The Defence Force thanks Corporal Apiata for his significant contribution and wishes him well with his future career."

Jones said the Defence Force would not disclose details of Apiata's new role or the date he would be officially released from the Defence Force.

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