Jacinda liked boxing and baking
Army medics closest to slain Christchurch soldier Jacinda Baker are heading to Australia today to be with the bodies of their comrades until they are brought home.
Among them is Lance Corporal Leanne Corbett, who will be a pallbearer for the 26-year-old medic at each army service this week.
Baker, 26, was one of three Kiwi soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, and Private Richard Harris, 21, also died.
Speaking today at Burnham Military Camp, where all three soldiers were based, Corbett broke down as she recalled getting a text message on Monday saying Baker, her close friend of five years, was one of those killed.
Corbett was serving in Samoa two weeks earlier when she was told Lance Corporal Rory Malone, 26, had been killed in Afghanistan.
''That was pretty heartbreaking, and then he [the commanding officer] said some people have been injured. I said, 'Don't tell me it was Jacinda'.''
Corbett met Baker on a kayaking course in Murchison as part of six-day army-run adventure training course in 2007 and they ''hit it off''.
''We were the only two girls on it so it was good to have bonding time; shared a room together, hung on the water all day together,'' Corbett said.
Baker was posted to the same unit as Corbett two weeks later.
Corbett is now based at Linton but had kept in close contact with Baker, emailing each other while posted overseas and catching up for weekends whenever they were both in New Zealand.
Baker had told her things were going well in Afghanistan, and she had even managed to keep up her boxing training with Tamatea, which Corbett had encouraged her to do.
''It was nice to know she was still having a punch on the bag and doing some glovework.''
The last time they spent together was in Christchurch, when they had an afternoon ''bake-off''.
''That was something we did together. She's a good cook and baker. Her favourite was chocolate brownies, but I loved her macadamia biscuits.''
Corbett admired her friend as a medic who ''knows her stuff.''
She said Baker had ''gone through a lot'' serving in Afghanistan but was professional to the end.
''You're a soldier first and a medic second. You've got to keep aware of both jobs. I don't think anyone goes over there not thinking they're a little bit scared,'' she said.
Corbett and the other pallbearers were chosen by Baker's family, together with her unit.
Leading the pallbearers will be Sergeant Mark Anderson, Baker's trainer and mentor when she started in the army.
He described taking Baker on her basic training as ''a pleasure''.
''I got the fun of watching a pretty gutsy individual grow and develop as she was starting young,'' he said.
''[She had] a real bubbly attitude, was fun to work with. When I found out she was changing to the medical trade ... I was pretty thrilled.''
As a medic she was ''the best she could be''.
The last time Anderson, Baker's neighbour for a time, saw her was at the army camp talking about gear and tactics while she was getting ready to go to Afghanistan.
He said she was ''passionate about what she did'' and had a professional attitude to the dangers she would face.
''You think about it, absolutely. We don't choose this career lightly. Nobody goes into any trade in the army with a half-attitude. You go in full-bore, and Jacinda was exactly that,'' he said.
Anderson said the army was ''a big family'' and everyone was pulling together to support each other in their grief.
''We know we have to carry on, for their sake.''
The soldiers' bodies are due to arrive in Christchurch tomorrow.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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