Soldiers return from last Solomons tour
Tears flowed but it was all smiles as partners and children welcomed the last of the New Zealand troops home from the Solomon Islands.
Thirty-four personnel from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, arrived at Christchurch Airport yesterday afternoon after a six-month deployment to the Pacific Island country.
Among the waiting family members was 17-month-old Tama Te Kani, who was wearing a T-shirt that read: "My Papa, A Soldier, My Hero."
His mother, Kezia Tapsell, was nervous and excited to see her partner, Barney Te Kani. "It can be tough when he's away . . . but there's no other choice, you just get on with it."
Tessa Brownlee, 19, was nervously waiting to be reunited with boyfriend Ingmar Kappers.
"It's a crazy sort of feeling. I'm nervous, I feel a bit sick and I just can't wait to see him."
New Zealand first deployed troops to the Solomon Islands in 2003. Deputy chief of army Brigadier Peter Kelly said some non-military staff remained in the country.
"The Solomon Islands needed support with law and order, stability and those sort of things . . . there has been huge progression and we have recently had more of a mentoring and training role."
Kelly said that with New Zealand also withdrawing from Afghanistan next year, the army would be able to focus more on training.
More than 1500 New Zealand Defence Force personnel have been deployed to the Solomon Islands in the past nine years, along with troops from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.