Trooper David Edmiston knows the sacrifices New Zealanders have made for the people of Afghanistan.
The Bluff-born soldier lost a friend in the red dirt of Bamiyan province in August.
Corporal Pralli Durrer, 26, his former flatmate, was killed during a Taleban ambush of a New Zealand convoy on August 6. Lance Corporal Rory Malone, also 26, was also killed in the attack.
Their deaths were two weeks before three others, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris, were also killed in Afghanistan.
Trooper Edmiston, now back with his parents in Bluff, said the events of that day would stay with him forever.
A soldier in Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles, he was part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team operating in the northeast of the country.
The 25-year-old was a gunner on the light-armoured vehicles the Kiwis used to patrol the countryside and assist the Afghan National Police.
He was reluctant to talk about the day Corporal Durrer died.
"He was a close friend - we lived together in Christchurch," he said. "I was there when it happened - I can't say too much about it. I wouldn't say it was a blur . . . Everyone was doing their job."
News of his friend's death hit Trooper Edmiston - and everyone in the unit - hard.
"He was a pretty well opinionated guy . . . a really good guy. He always looked out for his mates. It was good to have him as a friend."
The family spirit of the unit helped them through the loss, but it was difficult.
"I've come to grips with it," he said. "Everyone knows there is a chance that could happen. Sacrifices have to be made."
When he left for Afghanistan he was excited, and he is proud of what the New Zealanders have done to help the country.
But he also knows he could have died over there.
He believed the work the Kiwis had done had helped, and Corporal Durrer and the other Kiwi soldiers who had died did not do so in vain, he said.
Life during his tour of duty alternated between patrols and downtime but there was little to do to relax inside the perimeter, he said. "When you're not out on patrol you're not doing too much," he said. "You were pretty limited in your options most of the time . . . It's quite secure, with big walls around it, and you're well looked after - there's a cook to make us food [but] you've got to find a lot of ways to maintain yourself."
The soldiers were taught the basics of the local language, Dari, so they could talk to the civilians and they were encouraged to talk to the locals as much as they could..
"Tashakar" means "thank you", but another word was the most commonly heard.
"Baksheesh," Trooper Edmiston said. "Present. There were a lot of children coming up asking for gifts . . . They loved getting pens and water. And once you've given one you've got to give them all."
Patrols were accompanied by Afghan interpreters - who will all be allowed into New Zealand as refugees after a government decision last week.
"They are a nice bunch of people," he said. "It'd be good if they can get into New Zealand."
The civilians' reaction varied. It was a difficult environment to adjust to - the patrols saw few women, and they were wearing burqas.
"They don't get out much," he said. "It was a very different place. It felt quite Third World."
Bamiyan is mountainous, challenging terrain for any soldier and the Taleban blended in with the civilians.
"It was extremely hard to make out what they looked like . . . It did make you suspicious of things. [But] you've got to take it as it is. You can't treat everyone like a Taleban, you've got to be friendly."
Now visiting his parents Pania and Mark in Bluff, he had decided to leave the army and look at further education. "I'm keen to look at some [insitute of technology] courses," he said. "I want to settle back into Southland life."
- © Fairfax NZ News