Being a Reservist you never know what is just around the corner, I enjoy meeting new people and learning about how we operate with our defence partners. What cause me a dilemma from time to time are the random calls that ask "Can you spare four weeks to go to an exotic location"? If I say yes I'm just as likely to be posted to a desk job somewhere in NZ, if I say no I could be turning down an opportunity to broaden my skill set and knowledge.
Image Right: The NZ team at Bersama Padu meet the local culture.
Mid September I received one of those phone calls from MTO3 asking me if I was available for 4 weeks at 14 days notice and was I medically in date with current vaccinations? Could I fly out to Malaysia in the first week of October for Exercise Bersama Padu10? The Canterbury earthquake had recently struck and unfortunately the original nominee had local issue to deal with and could no longer participate as planned. How would my new employer take it when I ask for leave to go and do a Navy job when I was about to starting my new civi job?
I was keen having spent a previous posting in the Sudan as an UNMO, Malaysia would be a significantly different environment. My new employer Port of Tauranga was extremely supportive for which I am very grateful. It was just 17 days later that I found myself as part of the passenger load on an RNZAF 757 over the Timor Sea enroute to Penang.
Bersama Padu is one of a series of regular exercises which New Zealand supports as part of her commitment to the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA), this year the serial was being hosted by the Malaysians and we were to be based out of the Butterworth Air force Base. My attachment was to the Exercise HQ as part of the Scenario Management Team.
Our exercise objectives including demonstrating New Zealand's commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region, providing NZ capability to coalition operations, enhancing international relations and defence engagement with our FPDA partners and providing command level experience for the HQ personnel of which I was just one.
After the opening formalities we had gathered around a table laden with noodles and Malaysian delicacies and one of our hosts passed the comment that his objective was to ensure all guests left having put on an additional four kilos. Although there was no mention of this activity in our exercise objectives the noodle table was a regular feature and has required me since to put in extra exercise effort to maintain my MSFT score.
Being attached to a Combined Nations HQ, learning the different protocols that each nation work under and working through issues of interoperability to a reach a common goal significantly added to my professional development. Working on an operational airfield was a new experience for me, I can still hear the roar of the F18's and Mig29's as they hit full throttle for take-off. Sure I wear dark blue, but that doesn't mean I can't love the smell of Av Gas in the morning.
The Malaysians were gracious hosts, the FPDA partners quickly gelled and a successful exercise was held with all goals met and objectives achieved.