The first thing that struck me when I saw the picture of the two homegrown SAS troopers in Kabul in the Herald last Thursday was that one of them wasn't wearing a helmet.
"That bloke will be in for a bollocking from his sergeant," I said to my wife.
Here the pair were, leaving what we are told was the scene of an attack by Taleban gunmen and suicide bombers, and one of them looked like a perfect target for a sniper's headshot.
It wasn't until a day later I learned, thanks to Prime Minister John Key's extraordinary disclosure, that the soldier in question was none other than Corporal Willie Apiata, VC.
I say extraordinary because, in justifying his action, Mr Key told reporters: "I'm not going to stand up and lie to the New Zealand media. It was pretty clear to anyone who knows the man that that's who it was."
Well, I've seen Corporal Apiata a hundred times on TV and in newspaper and magazine pictures and, for all that I have a lifetime of experience of acute observation, the woolly-headed, luxuriantly moustachioed and bearded fellow I saw in the Herald bore no resemblance to the bloke in the immaculate dress uniform with the regulation haircut and neatly trimmed moustache whom we are used to.
And it is significant, surely, that the numerous similarly observant Herald journos and technicians who received, pondered upon, processed and published the picture were not certain who the man was, either.
I was staggered that no one commented on Corporal Apiata's bare head until, somewhat belatedly, the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, told a press conference on Tuesday that the soldier had been told "to be more careful" after taking off his helmet and being photographed by the French photographer who captured the shot the Herald published.
I wholeheartedly support their decision to run the picture, but I would have splashed it over at least five columns at the top of page 1, not hidden it away on page 3. It was, by a long shot, the news picture of the day.
The kerfuffle that followed its publication is just a load of nonsense. Type "Corporal Willie Apiata" into Google Images and you will find more than 120 pictures of the man in the first 10 pages of a 25-page response.
The pictures show him both as we saw him paraded here and as he was in Afghanistan the first time and is this time. And in not one of the pictures is he wearing a helmet, including a current (bearded) picture of him on the NZ Army website.
Thanks to the decision of the Herald to run the picture, and the controversy that followed, the Government will from now on reveal details of SAS deployments overseas, so long as there is no "material" risk to soldiers.
So it should. The public, as the Weekend Herald said in an editorial on Saturday, has a right to know where our troops are and what they are up to, just as we have a right to know what any other representatives of our country are doing overseas.
Meanwhile, the defence of anonymity mounted by the services' flack Shaun Fogarty was one of the most amusing pieces to appear in this newspaper so far this year.
Commander Fogarty argued that pictures such as this might reveal "weapons configurations, ammunition quantities, communications equipment, and protective clothing that may be revealing to an adversary" and "present [the adversary] with something they will exploit in the future - directly affecting the safety of these personnel".
Well, considering that most places our troops go we have to borrow gear from our allies in order even to stay in touch with them, I'm sure that's a consideration.
The commander suggested that showing the faces of SAS troopers might create situations "in which their identity, including that they belong to this particular unit, might be used against them, for example in a situation in which they are held captive or are being interrogated".
He then went on to suggest that identification of a trooper might lead some baddie to come to New Zealand and "kidnap or harm" that soldier's family.
And to hammer home his point, Commander Fogarty wrote: "The image published this week confirms to an adversary that [Corporal Apiata] is in the city of Kabul at this time. Such solid information could encourage insurgents to plan and commit resources to the task of trying to kill or capture him ..."
I really don't know what planet this guy lives on, but I suggest that the "adversary" in Afghanistan probably has no idea that New Zealand exists and even if he does couldn't find it on a map of the world, let alone figure out how to get here.
Mind you, if the Taleban nasties do try to capture or kill our Willie Apiata, he'd better be wearing his helmet.By Garth George Email Garth