A Timaru youth is ready to rise through the New Zealand army's ranks after a steep learning curve at Waiouru.
Private Jamie Mason, 18, is in Timaru on leave after 16 weeks of basic training with the New Zealand Army.
Those 16 weeks have been a success for the youth who didn't fit in at school.
Mason did his last year of education at the Opihi Services Academy. Academy director Stacey McVeigh was impressed with Mason's progress.
"School just didn't work for him," McVeigh said.
Moving into the academy where "we just do army stuff most days" had inspired him to turn his life around.
"He's grown 10 metres in height, knowledge and maturity."
Mason returned to visit the 15-pupil academy this week to ensure standards remained high.
Mason said he was grateful to OSA staff, who had been "a real help". He also acknowledged Mountainview High School teacher Murray Kuperus, who had suggested the academy to him.
Mason said his army training group had reduced from 89 to 69 during the course. This was due to a number of injuries and "others [who] just couldn't hack it".
Recruits had learnt to iron their uniforms, make bedrolls, pack their rucksacks, polish their boots and "maintain a high standard". Although the new skills and early morning starts had been a challenge, Mason said the training had been a positive experience. Firing a Minimi light machine-gun had been a particular highlight for him.
The army had also been a source of new friends. "I've made some good mates," Mason said.
Mason is about to transfer to Christchurch's Burnham base for a further three months of core training, where he looked forward to learning more about using weapons and "spending more time in the field".
Mason's advice to South Canterbury's young people was that "hard work always pays off"'.
- The Timaru Herald