Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Video links keep families in touch at Christmas

Navy Lieutenant Commander Kelly Ashton-Kells on deployment in Kabul. Photo / Supplied
Navy Lieutenant Commander Kelly Ashton-Kells on deployment in Kabul. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand's overseas defence force personnel will be turning to heavy doses of Skype tomorrow for a link with home on Christmas Day.

More than 240 personnel are spending Christmas on overseas operations in Afghanistan, the Sinai Peninsula, Antarctica, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, South Sudan, South Korea and Iraq.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Odell, 51, is one of three Kiwis in South Sudan, and the only New Zealander based in the southern city of Juba.

But he said his Christmas Day would still feature plenty of Kiwi touches, thanks to care packages sent from the Returned Services Association and friends and family.

"I've got far too much Christmas food, so I'll probably be sitting quietly with a few friends having cake and shortbread.

"I've even been sent a steamed pudding and custard ... that's important, just to have little things."

Mr Odell has been working in planning for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan for about four months, and will stay until March.

Tomorrow he will attend a local church service, and talk to his wife over Skype, as he did most days.

"Just about every day at the same time we hook up and have 10 or 15 minutes talking with each other, so it's a real blessing."

Navy Lieutenant Commander Kelly Ashton-Kells, partway through a six-month placement in Kabul, said Christmas was hard for those overseas and their families at home.

"We had a terrible August, where there were a number of messages home to say whatever was going on, while it was affecting me, it wasn't me directly," she said.

"It will be hard not to miss [family], and be missed. But internet shopping is fantastic as a way to make sure everyone has something from me."

Mrs Ashton-Kells, 34, works in the International Security Assistance Force commander's legal advisers office, and said she and other Kiwis there would get together for waffles at breakfast.

"There are little things that do remind you of home. And those small touches are the things that make it bearable. And one thing that I've found while being here is that Tim Tams make fantastic currency."

Kiwi personnel overseas:

•178 in Afghanistan
•28 in Sinai Peninsula
•Eight in the Middle East
•Eight in Antarctica
•Eight in the Solomon Islands
•Five in Timor-Leste
•Three in South Sudan
•Three in South Korea
•One in Iraq

Source: NZ Defence Force

- NZ Herald

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