Assault officer got no help with stress

A Linton lieutenant who knocked out another officer with a single blow has criticised the army's lack of care for stressed soldiers returning from Afghanistan.

There was no follow-up for him and his platoon in dealing with post-deployment stress, he said.

In front of Judge Anne Gaskell in a court martial at Linton Military Camp yesterday, Joshua Daniel Saua, 22, pleaded guilty to a charge of injuring with reckless disregard.

Saua was sentenced to pay $1000 reparation, a stay of rank for 16 months, meaning he cannot be promoted, and a "severe reprimand".

After a night out drinking on August 5 last year, Saua was outside Palmerston North pub The Beer Barrel when a colleague, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel Loftas, asked another officer for a lift home.

When he was refused, he became upset and Saua and 2nd Lieutenant Luke Johnson walked away with him in Fitzherbert Ave.

In the street near Toyworld, a still agitated Lieutenant Loftas pushed Saua, and he responded with a punch to the face.

While Lieutenant Loftas was on the ground, Saua continued to punch him.

Lieutenant Johnson tried to pull him away, but Saua pushed him off and continued punching Lieutenant Loftas. Saua was pulled away again, and this time walked off down the street.

The unconscious Lieutenant Loftas was taken to Palmerston North Hospital with swelling and bruising to his face and a bleeding nose. A CT scan showed no significant injury and he was discharged later that afternoon.

Defence lawyer Paul Murray said the incident was "totally out of character" for Saua, who had no criminal history and was respected by his colleagues and superiors.

Just over three months before the assault, Saua had returned from deployment in Afghanistan. While there, his platoon was attacked with a rocket-powered grenade, and he was instrumental in finding and arresting an insurgent.

Details of another experience, which had a lasting impact on Saua, was suppressed by the court.

Following his return from Afghanistan, the court heard Saua became withdrawn, moved into a flat on his own, "self-medicated" with alcohol, and stopped visiting his family. Upon his return to New Zealand, psychiatric assessments had been mooted, but never eventuated. He later tried to follow them up for himself and his comrades, but nothing came of it.

After the assault, he realised he needed to get help and contacted his superiors, arranging to see a psychologist, and attending anger management.

Saua went to a restorative justice meeting with Lieutenant Loftas, and offered to pay him the equivalent of five days' pay.

Lieutenant Loftas' victim impact statement said he took a week off after the incident, suffering bruising, swelling and broken blood vessels that took a while to heal.

Saua's commanding officer, Major Geoff Faraday, was among those who gave a reference for Saua, calling him enthusiastic, professional and passionate.

Saua said he was considering tertiary study, but would like to remain in the territorial reserves.

He told the court he was proud of his Samoan heritage, and was in line to take over from his father as chief of their village in Samoa.

Manawatu Standard