Commanding officer's dive career started at the bottom

LIB WILSON
Last updated 09:28 27/01/2014
Trevor Leslie
Dyanne Armstrong/NZ Defence Force

Lieutenant Commander Trevor Leslie receives the Commander W.L.J Smith Cup from Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

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A Te Kuiti lad who joined the New Zealand Navy after high school has worked his way up the ranks to commanding officer of the navy operational dive team.

During his navy career of almost 28 years, Lieutenant Commander Trevor Leslie has been to Lebanon to dispose of bombs, provided dive expertise to the Malaysian navy, and carried out dive missions from the Antarctic Islands to the Pacific Islands.

His dive team was back in his home region in March last year when it was involved in recovering the bodies of mobile phone company 2degrees boss Eric Hertz and wife Kathy after their plane crashed off the Raglan coast.

And earlier this month, Leslie was proud to pick up a military award on behalf of his 24-strong team for best supporting force in the navy for 2013.

His missions have been many and varied - their duration ranging from about six weeks to eight months.

One which has stuck in his mind was on land, when he spent eight months clearing bombs in the south of Lebanon.

"It was very satisfying and rewarding work," he said. Many Lebanese people had lost legs to bombs.

"There's bomblets on school roofs and village roofs, and they can't use their playgrounds. So being able to open up playgrounds and schools and things like that is pretty rewarding."

Defence Force personnel also spent time mixing with the locals and playing football with the children.

Leslie and his family also enjoyed living in Malaysia for three years from 2002 while he was posted there.

He supported the Malaysian navy's diving programme, for example, through training and policy writing.

Other missions have had him helping with reconstruction in tsunami-struck Samoa, or bomb disposal in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Even domestically, his work has taken him all over New Zealand.

So, when he was back in the Waikato working on the 2degrees plane crash, it was a nice surprise to find a familiar face - a former schoolmate was the local police officer.

Diving was always an interest for Leslie, who was "brought up around water", and he joined the navy with diving in mind. Within his second year in the Defence Force, he got into the diving side of things and hasn't looked back.

"I've managed to work my way up from the bottom to the commanding officer of the dive team," he said.

"It's still very rewarding.

"We do a lot of jobs where we get to provide closure to families and we get to travel all over the world."

Being around those he went through his initial training with added to the community and family nature of the group, he said.

"There's a lot of risk involved in what we do, so having that level of trust in your mate is very important."

The all-male team ranges from 19-year-olds at the start of their military careers to more experienced members in their early 40s.

"I'm real passionate about being a diver in the navy, and the navy itself, so now I've been around a bit longer, it's really rewarding seeing young guys come through and enjoying it for all those reasons that I enjoyed it," Leslie said.

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Retrieving bodies to give grieving families closure and helping communities throughout New Zealand and the Pacific were also among the most satisfying parts of his job. As commanding officer he still gets to go out and be hands-on, "but not as often as I'd like".

Still, when he "kicks back" he likes it to be near water, and one of his favourite spots is Marokopa - on the west coast, not too far from his home town of Te Kuiti.

When he does go for a non-work dive, gathering seafood for his family is the main objective, as he has four children and his wife is pregnant with twins.

Once the seafood is gathered, his eldest son - 22 and a chef in the navy - steps in.

"He complements my seafood gathering nicely," Leslie said.

And he is glad to see his son follow him into the Defence Force.

"It's a very rewarding career . . . and provides lots of opportunities for young men and women in New Zealand."

- Waikato Times

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