Last month I had the privilege of spending a week in the New Zealand Navy.
Under an arrangement between our defence force and Parliament, MPs have an opportunity to experience an intensive period of training with one of the three forces in order to gain an insight into how the NZDF operates and the day-to-day life of service personnel.
Based predominantly at the Devonport Naval Base (HMNZS Philomel), my course included basic training, disaster management, maintenance and procurement programmes, weapons training, drill, navigation and much more. Not a moment was wasted.
I approached the week with a combination of eagerness and apprehension, conscious that on the first morning I would have to undertake the same fitness test that recruits about one third my age must pass in order to commence training.
To my great relief I managed that and, while there were many more testing experiences during the days that followed, at the end of the week I was reflecting on one of the most stimulating and worthwhile experiences of my career.
Throughout the week, I was mentored and assisted by my escort officer, Lt. Cdr. Ripandeep Takhar, from Hamilton.
Rip is an outstanding young man who looked after me superbly well - every inch "an officer and a gentleman"!
A real highlight was the day and night I spent with the young crew of an offshore patrol vessel, HMS Rotoiti, sailing to Auckland from the Bay of Islands.
While on board, I experienced flag exercises, navigation, and more disaster training including "fire in the galley" and "man overboard". (I was aware that serious thought had been given to using a dispensable MP for that ... but the possibility that a shark might get to "the victim" before the rescue craft fortunately forced a change of plan.) During the journey I also gained an awareness of the Navy's role in fishing and coastal patrols and search and rescue exercises.
While I observed a great deal that impressed me and retain many warm memories, my over-riding impression was an appreciation of the amazing complexity of Navy training and the myriad tasks undertaken by Navy personnel.
The skills and experiences acquired by those who serve in our Navy (and other services) are easily transferred to civilian employment and are of considerable value.
I strongly encourage any young person with a sense of adventure, a willingness to learn and to work hard to respond to the Navy's current recruitment programme.