Solider's deaths will 'always stay with me'

Commander reflects on tough two years in job

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 17:40 11/12/2012
soldiers landscape
John Kirk-Anderson

HANDOVER: Lieutenant Colonel Pete Hall, left, took command of the 2nd/1st Battalion today.

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An outgoing military commander says the deaths of five soldiers in Afghanistan who served in his regiment during his two-year command will ''always stay with me''.

Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Michie, former commanding officer of the Burnham-based 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, handed over command of the unit to Lieutenant Colonel Pete Hall during a ceremony at Burnham Military Camp today.

The battalion has been hard hit by deaths while deployed in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, of Christchurch, Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Private Richard Harris, 21, and Lance Corporal Rory Malone, 26, were killed in August. 

Private Kirifi Mila, 27, was killed in February 2011. 

Hall, who recently returned from Afghanistan, was welcomed to the position with a  wero, haka and powhiri on the parade ground. 

Michie said serving among the 2nd/1st was ''the greatest privilege in my career''.

He said the most significant moments of the past two years were the soldiers' deaths and co-ordinating the red-zone cordon after the February 2011 earthquake.

''I could never in my wildest dreams imagined the two years would've happened the way they did,'' he said. 

''Something that is so poignant is all the services for the guys we've lost overseas. Even when I joined the battalion they were still recovering from the loss of Tim O'Donnell, then straight away we had Kirifi Mila, then the earthquake. 

''Then, of course, this year with Rory from our unit, then Pralli, then [Tamatea] then Jacinda. Those things will always stay with me.''

Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer, 26, killed in August alongside Malone, was in the Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles  regiment, based at Burnham. 

Michie is moving Canberra to be an instructor, but hoped to see the families of the killed soldiers before he left.

Michie had written to the 2nd/1st troops still deployed in Afghanistan ''to say thank you very much and to wish them all the best''.

He said the mood at the Kiwi base was ''upbeat''.

Hall said he was proud to take over the commanding officer role. He will now have 400 to 450 soldiers under his command.

Bringing the rest of the troops home from Afghanistan next year would be ''great'', Hall said. 

''Obviously the shock of people being killed in action plays on everyone. Everyone is dealing with that in their own way. It's a process that will probably take a fair while.''

The service was attended by 2nd/1st troops injured in Afghanistan and World War II veterans from the 27th machinegun battalion.

2nd/1st battalion's fallen:

August 2012 - Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, Private Richard Harris and Corporal Luke Tamatea died when their Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb in Bamiyan province. Lance Corporal Rory Malone, 26, was killed in a firefight that also claimed the life of Pralli Durrer, also 26, who was in a different unit.  

February 2011 - Private Kirifi Mila, 27, also known as Cliff, was killed when the Humvee he was riding in rolled down a cliff in Bamiyan.

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August 2010 - Lieutenant Timothy O'Donnell, 28, was killed when his patrol was attacked in Bamiyan.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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