Veteran calls for recognition

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Army veteran Aaron Horrell hopes the withdrawal of the New Zealand Defence Force from Afghanistan will put contemporary veterans on the radar.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that the withdrawal would be completed by May, ending a 20-year deployment in which 10 New Zealanders were killed.

Veterans of Afghanistan did not get the recognition of those who served in wars before the 1980s, Mr Horrell said.

“There’s never been an official welcome home [parade] for contemporary veterans.”

“Acknowledgement from the Government, that’s what’s lacking.”

One reason for this was the rebranding of service men and women as peacekeepers, which glossed over the nature of their work, he said.

“People think we were handing out water and lollies. People need to realise we train for the worst and hope for the best.

“The worst-case scenario is warfare and we can always downscale our tempo to suit whatever deployment we go on [such as] UN missions and reconstruction roles.

“Whenever you carry a rifle, you carry it for a reason.”

The Mandeville resident served in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005 and again in 2012.

Many of the 3500 New Zealand Defence Force members were stationed in Bamiyan province.

“We made a big difference over there. Boys and girls get to go to school. They respected and accepted us being there but it was always a question of not if but when we would leave.”

International ties with countries such as the United States were closer because of New Zealand’s involvement.

“It shows a commitment to [Operation] Enduring Freedom.”

The main contingent in Afghanistan withdrew in 2013, he said.

“We’ve just had a skeleton crew over there. We’ve done our dash.”

However, he would serve his time over again, he said.

He was one of several Afghanistan veterans from the Gore area, he said.

Another was Cameron Taylor, who served in the country from 2010 to 2011.

New Zealand forces had helped the people of Bamiyan province, Mr Taylor said.

“You could see the effect on people’s ability to lead their lives.”

New Zealand’s withdrawal marked the “end of an era”.