Soldier was always 'up for adventure'

Last updated 05:00 21/08/2012
Luke Tamatea
TRAGIC LOSS: It was to have been Luke Tamatea's final tour of duty.
Jacinda Baker
COMMITMENT: Jacinda Baker.
Richard Harris
DEVASTATED: Richard Harris is the pride and joy of his family.

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Christchurch's latest fallen soldier, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, joined the army with the belief "girls can do anything".

Baker, a 26-year-old medic from Christchurch, Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, of Kawerau, and Private Richard Harris, 21, of Pukekohe, were killed when their Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan.

One of Baker's friends, Christine Donk, 27, told The Press last night that the Christchurch medic "loved doing what she did".

Baker is believed to be the first female killed in action since the Vietnam War, when a nurse was killed.

Donk first met Baker when they were 14.

"She had that real attitude that girls can do anything,'' Donk said.

"She gave anything a go - kayaking, rock climbing, hiking. She was always up for an adventure.

''She was always looking out for the next thing to do, and she always did really well in what she did." 

The pair had a "gap year" after high school.

Donk said Baker was always interested in "medical stuff" and soon found herself in the army.

She "thrived" on the challenge and the discipline.

"As soon as she was in the army she just buzzed,'' Donk said.

''It was her to a T. Once she had her mind on something, that was it. She was just so committed to what she did."

This commitment was recognised, and Baker was awarded a Chief of Army commendation for her professionalism and courage during Exercise Southern Warrior in June 2008.

Donk was was still coming to terms with the news of Baker's death.

"It's just a shock. Five people have died in the last two weeks,'' she said. 

''It's a shock and I just question what the objective is?"

Donk last night remembered a letter her friend had written to her at high school.

"She told me: Stand up for what you believe in. It's pretty special. She was a very strong girl and a loyal friend."

Donk said Baker migrated from the Netherlands when she was a child. She returned there but came back to New Zealand in her teens.

She would have turned 27 in a couple of weeks.

Donk said Baker also had an interest in horse riding and music.

"My heart goes out to the family."

Donk said Baker had been with her partner since she joined the army.

A neighbour of Baker's was left in "shock" after the realisation the Christchurch woman was among the three fallen soldiers.

Alex Marsden, 27, said yesterday that the news was "pretty hard" to accept.

"It's just such a shame. I only just figured it out this morning; the army people standing in the driveway this morning,'' he said.

''The way the owner came home this morning, he looked a mess. It was quite a shock." 

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It was to have been Luke Tamatea's final tour of duty, but it was never supposed to end like this.

The 31-year-old soldier from Kawerau was going to resign from the army after his latest deployment to Afghanistan, said a friend he grew up with.

But his family and friends will not get to welcome him home the way they had hoped.

Tamatea was reportedly a father of four.

The friend said they spoke briefly before his deployment to Afghanistan with the 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment in April. "He intimated this was to be his last trip ... I'm pretty shocked about his death."

The attack occurred northwest of Do Abe, near where lance corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer, both 26, were killed in a firefight on August 5.

Tamatea's grandmother, Loraine O'Brien, said he phoned her after that attack because he knew she would be worried about him.

"He said, 'Don't worry about me, Nana; I'm all right'. And those were his last words to me," she said.

"We'd been hoping that [Prime Minister] John Key would have sent him back by now, after the last lot passed away. I'd just like them all to come back. It's not fair."

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Richard Harris, who was driving the Humvee, was one of the soldiers who responded to the firefight that killed Malone and Durrer.

His aunt, Gaylene Harris, said the family were "just devastated" by his death.

"'He is the pride and joy of our family and he is very special to us all. We were just looking forward to getting him home at the end of his time there."

Harris, the youngest of three children, would be buried at Piki Te Aroha Marae, in Rahiri, Hokianga, beside his father, who died when his son was 2, Gaylene Harris said.

- The Press


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