Third World Christmas for soldier
Spending Christmas in the line of fire is just part of the job for Kiwi soldiers deployed overseas this year.
Among them is former Christchurch military liaison Kit Taylor, 36, who will spend today in 40 to 50 degree Celsius and Skyping family at home from his camp in South Sudan.
Taylor works as a military liaison officer with the United Nations in the state of Jonglei, near the Nile.
Taylor has been in the military 15 years and said living in South Sudan was ''an eye-opener''.
His first time in Africa, it was ''fairly challenging'' where he was posted, Taylor said.
He is the only New Zealander in a team of 16 or 17 military liaison officers based in Jonglei in a country that gained independence in July last year.
''It's literally the Third World. People are still living in mud huts. There's no infrastructure; no power, no running water,'' he said.
''We pretty much have to be self-sufficient. Even getting food is a challenge. You get a lot of stuff sent from home just to make sure you do get to eat.''
Having just reached the end of the rainy season, where the Nile flooded had become a massive swampland.
''We essentially have to fly everywhere by helicopter. You can't drive anywhere,'' he said.
''Combine that with the heat of the place ... our job is relatively demanding. Where I work there is still quite a bit of ethnic conflict as well as conflict between the army and local militia forces.
''It's not like Afghanistan, where you are being directly targeted by the Taliban [but] there are a lot of close encounters.
''It's one of the things that comes with the job.''
More than 240 New Zealand military personnel spent Christmas Day deployed abroad this year.
Taylor said his would be a ''low-key'' day.
He plans to phone his wife and three young children in Palmerston North and watch them open presents over Skype, and for the meal, slaughter a goat for the barbecue.
''There are no butchers here, no refrigeration. You've got to get a live animal and do your best to make a meal out of it,'' he said.
Some of the group hoped to take food and presents to an orphanage.
Many abducted children stayed in orphanages while being repatriated back to their communities.
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Major General Dave Gawn said the number of soldiers overseas this Christmas was less than previous years because of the recent mission drawdown in East Timor.
It is also the last Christmas New Zealand soldiers will be posted to Afghanistan, with a withdrawal planned for next year.
Gawn said 2012 had been ''a difficult year'' for the military, with five soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
''Our thoughts this Christmas will be with the families and friends of our fallen,'' he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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