For Napier soldier Corporal Storm Harrison it was "an honour" to be among the final troop deployment to Timor-Leste, and to have witnessed the rebuilding of the once troubled Southeast Asian state.
The 31-year-old soldier, with 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, has arrived back in Hawke's Bay after the latest, and last, six-month deployment in support of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force and has been catching up with family - especially his wife and two young sons.
It was his second stint to Timor-Leste, having been there during a deployment in 2000 when the effects of the struggle for independence from Indonesia were stark.
"It was good to go back and see the changes. Back in 2000 all the people had run away, houses were burnt out. We arrived and went straight out on patrol, it was a harsh environment. I was keen to come back. It's been an honour to be here on the last contingent and to see all the positive changes."
There had also been changes in the accommodation environment, he said.
"It was my first deployment back in 2000. I was with the transport section based in Suai. The guys were doing a lot of patrols in the area, and we helped with transporting supplies and troops, as well as a lot of vehicle maintenance. We had no air conditioning in our rooms or vehicles, and we slept on stretchers. In Timor-Leste this time, we were pretty lucky with beds in air con rooms."
Corporal Harrison has been in the New Zealand Army for nine years and said the experiences of deploying to Timor-Leste had been a memorable part of his career. He said in the wake of seeing the positive changes, and getting to meet and know the local people, there had been a sadness in leaving. "Especially as the kids here remind us of our nieces and nephews back home. But for the New Zealand Defence Force it is time for us to do other things - it's the end of the mission there."
The security environment in Timor-Leste has remained calm and stable since the successful elections earlier this year, and the ISF has completed its security mandate so the Kiwis and Aussies have pulled out.
The lower operational tempo of the deployment allowed the contingent to focus on training, on top of providing security to ISF bases and maintaining a Protected Mobility Vehicle Troop on stand-by to deploy a Quick Reaction Force. A wide range of training was conducted including a small arms shooting course, an urban operations course, and a combat lifesavers training.
Most of the contingent also had an opportunity to visit Cova Lima, where Defence Force personnel deployed back in 1999-2002, and where Private Leonard Manning was killed, New Zealand's first combat casualty since Vietnam.
A small Theatre Extraction Team has replaced the returned contingent this week, and will work with the Australians to close down the bases and return military equipment. The New Zealand Defence Force will deploy five advisers to Timor-Leste.