Topic: Lt Kate Wawatai describes her experiences in the Solomon Islands

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Where have you been? A question answered by LT Kate Wawatai, Platoon Commander on Op. Rata. This article appeared in the August 2009 (56th) Hauraki News.

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I have been asked this question many times since I have been home. I tell people that I have been in the Solomon's, and surprisingly not many know of this mountainous double chain of islands and coral atolls that stretch over 1800km west to east. Even more surprisingly many people are unaware that New Zealand soldiers are currently serving on these islands that once were the scene of heavy fighting during WWII.

 

For me and many other soldiers it was to be our first deployment. Young and old soldiers from 6 Hauraki and 3 ANR joined together to create the 6th Rotation of OP RATA II. I was lucky enough to have Charlie Harrison as the Pl Sgt and SSgt Solomon was never far away with guidance and advice for all commanders. Cpl Teejay Samuel, Cpl John Goodwin and Cpl Steve Pene developed their sections comradeship well before we left and kept a tight hold of their soldiers whilst deployed. WMR’s Tpr Mackintosh provided a key role as Platoon Signals operator ensuring our most important asset was always up and running – communications!

Months flew by whilst we were deployed however the days were so long. Much of the first month we spent waiting. Waiting for orders, waiting for confirmation, waiting for trouble. This may have been the hardest part for most soldiers and difficult on commanders at all levels. Whilst waiting we worked. Commanders trained sections, soldiers taught the platoon, we pack marched, practiced riot control, cleaned weapons, completed range practice, completed sig training, medic training, read SOP’s and we waited. It was during these times of waiting that proved the real test on commanders’ control, 2IC’s initiative and soldiers’ patience.

As the deployment progressed we started to see the real Solomon Islands, sections patrolled dismounted and mounted by day and night into the outskirts of the city with up to 4 or 5 patrols a day. Commanders met chiefs, interacted with the locals, ventured into places that had not been touched for a long time, and then they would return and entire sections would help commanders compile detailed patrol reports. It was during this patrolling phase that we saw commanders really work hard to help develop their sections. 2IC’s stepped up to the mark, LCpl Darcy Timu, LCpl Darin Fuimaono and our very own LCpl Joey Faulkner performed outstandingly in their role as section 2IC’s. Providing a key link between the soldiers and commanders.

During the 2nd half of the deployment the NZ platoon was lucky enough to see all three sections sent out of Honiara on Provincial tasks that lasted from 7 – 10 days (much to the Aussies dislike.) Although I think our luck had much to do with the patrol commander being from NZ. Cpl Pene, LCpl Fuimaono, Cpl Samuel and LCpl Faulkner moved by boat to Western province where each led brick size dets conducting patrols, village visits and border patrol tasks. Cpl Goodwin and LCpl Darcy Timu with their section flew to Mbanbanakira, a small village on the southern coast of Guadalcanal, where they completed a major bridge building task with limited supplies under the expertise of Spr Justin Roys and Spr Vipal Govind.

Whilst part of this Australian led regional Assistance Mission to The Solomon Islands the NZ platoon also got to work along side different nations, we spent time with the Tongan Marines, The Papa New Guinea army and many Policemen and women from all over the Pacific as well as the Aussies. We were treated well by all nations and we soon got that kiwi reputation of getting in there and just doing the job with whatever resources we had without complaint. The Aussie diggers were a bit shocked to see an infantry female commander as well as female soldiers but they soon came to terms with the fact that we were all equals especially after the Aussies were defeated on the touch field, soccer field and volleyball court at our ‘friendly’ ANZAC day sports competition.

Although this deployment was indeed an experience, it was first and foremost a job, and like all jobs it came with its ups and downs. There were frustrating times for commanders and soldiers, times of loneliness and of course that question ‘what am I doing here?’ Eventually the frustrating times were replaced by work, laughter, exhaustion and comradeship, and that nagging question was also answered when helping the locals, when gathering that all important information and when understanding that the small things that each individual soldier does can and will eventually make a difference. If you have the opportunity to be part of this mission I strongly suggest that you take it. It is hard work and a challenge but that’s why we joined isn’t it? No one ever said it would be easy. Although OP RATA II is a lower level operation compared to many others, it is still an operation that is important to all NZers as it is so close to home.

When people ask me where I have been, I tell them, I tell them about NZ’s military involvement, I tell them about the history and the current state of the Solomon Islands. I share with them all that I know and so should you, because it is important to NZ and because we should continue to try and make a difference in a country that desperately needs our help.

To all those soldiers and commanders that were part of OP RATA II (6), you should be proud of your efforts. With the experience and knowledge you have gained from this deployment it is important that you continue to train and share that knowledge and experience with others. I enjoyed working with you all.

Kia Kaha

Lt Kate Wawatai 

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The page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016: https://perma.cc/GG6Z-9EGW

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Lt Kate Wawatai describes her experiences in the Solomon Islands


Year:c.2009
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Lt Kate Wawatai describes her experiences in the Solomon Islands by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License