Soldiers depart as one returns

VICKI WATERHOUSE AND CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2012
Isaac King
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ

FINAL WAVE: Lance Corporal Isaac King heads to the plane yesterday.

Isaac King
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
FOND FAREWELLS: Lance Corporal Isaac King, pictured with wife Connie and sons Varcoe (10) and Sarno (14), was among soldiers who left for Afghanistan yesterday.

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The two flights left for different reasons. They travelled in different directions.

At Ohakea, near Palmerston North, 36 soldiers yesterday boarded a C-130 Hercules bound for Afghanistan. Another 41 were farewelled from Burnham Military Camp.

One of the soldiers, Lance Corporal Isaac King, left behind his five children. "They're really close," his wife Connie said.

It has been nine years since the first contingent was sent as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team. This, the 20th batch of soldiers, will serve six months in Bamiyan province before returning home.

Six months ago Corporal Douglas Hughes made the same trip. He was due home at the end of the month. Instead, he was farewelled by his comrades early.

Yesterday, another air force flight touched down, this one at Auckland's Whenuapai.

Inside was the coffin carrying Hughes, draped in the New Zealand flag.

Last Tuesday Hughes was taken to the air base hospital as a result of an "incident" at a forward patrol base several hours away from the PRT headquarters in Bamiyan town.

As Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones farewelled the group from Ohakea Air Force Base, he said Corporal Hughes' death was a tragedy.

"It is pretty hard on the family," he said.

He said the investigation into Corporal Hughes' death could take weeks or months, and the findings may never be released.

Jones addressed the friends and family of those leaving and said they were in for an amazing experience.

He told the group they were joining a succession of amazing teams.

He said there was a deep appreciation by the Afghan people for their work.

The New Zealand SAS deployment, which was sent to help deny al Qaeda safe havens in the country, officially came to an end at midnight last Saturday but will take several weeks to all return home.

International forces in Afghanistan have agreed with the Afghanistan Government to hand over security to locals by July 2014.

For Connie King, it was not the first time she had seen her husband go overseas for his work. He spent six months in Timor Leste and two in the United Kingdom.

Corporal Hughes arrived at Whenuapai Air Base by night. He was met by his family, Jones and members of his battalion.

He was the fifth member of the New Zealand Defence Force to make that same flight.

Last week the Sunday Star-Times reported Corporal Doug Grant had received the Charles Upham Award for Bravery. That honour in fact went to the late Lance Corporal Leon Smith.

AFGHANISTAN DEATHS

April 2012: PRT Corporal Douglas Hughes dies in incident at Romero.

September 2011: SAS Lance Corporal Leon Smith killed during operation in Wardak province.

August 2011: SAS Corporal Doug Grant, 41, killed during Taleban attack in Kabul.

February 2011: PRT Private Kirifi Mila killed in Humvee accident, Bamiyan.

August 2010: PRT Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell killed in firefight after ambush in Bamiyan.

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Three soldiers, New Zealand-born but serving in Australian and British services, have also been killed: Jack Howard, Mathew Hopkins and Sean McCarthy.

- Sunday Star Times

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