From toy soldiers to the real deal

By Catherine Masters

Rhys Jones. Photo / Supplied.
Rhys Jones. Photo / Supplied.

He was a boy who loved war games. Now he plays them for real. Our new head of the Defence Force is also the son of a pacifist.

But Major General Rhys Jones' father would have been proud of his youngest child, says big brother Owen Marshall Jones, a novelist from Timaru.

Jones the younger, 50, is to head the country's defence forces from next month and is a calm, intelligent man who inherited the family love of literature and reading.

He's a warm fellow says Owen, 19 years his brother's senior, who sees a lot of their father, the late Reverend Alan Jones, in his little brother.

Nothing much ruffles the military man, and on the surface at least he appears a "laid back chap".

Underneath that, though, is a keen intelligence. "I think he's very much like dad, so I think he's a highly intelligent, calm, person of reason. He's a good man."

Their father was a Methodist minister from a humble background in the bushclad Wekaweka in the Far North and was a good role model, says Owen.

"He passed away in 1995 but it's quite ironic because dad was a strong pacifist. But, of course, he would have seen the irony of that and he would have been very proud of what Rhys has achieved."

He says their father encouraged all nine of his children to be independent thinkers.

"What choices we made he accepted. He would work through arguments in a reasonable fashion and it was up to each of us.

"When Rhys decided to go into the military [his father] never put any blocks in the way of that."

Major General Jones agrees. His father was an amazing character.

"He gave me my passion for learning and taught me how to think, so very interested in reading and draining topics for information till I understood it.

"But also his approach - yes, he was a Methodist minister and therefore a pacifist but where that translated for me is I classify myself as being a humanist.

In an article on the Defence Force website, written by Army news editor Judith Martin, Major General Jones confesses to having a long-abiding love of the tactics of war - the strategies of skirmishes and the psychology of wars waged throughout the centuries.

Martin writes that the Major General has the headpiece of a suit of armour on one end of his desk and paintings in his office show reflect significant sieges of long ago.

Major General Jones told Martin he joined the Army to be in command roles. "I enjoy decision-making, problem-solving and monitoring situations to decide the best way to deal with them."

The father of three girls loves books on military tactics, telling Martin: "Warfare, be it in ancient Roman time or now, is often a battle of minds among commanders.

"It's all about how you convince your opponent they are defeated or convince them to think in a certain way so as to give you the advantage or even avoid fighting in the first place."

Though he does the real thing now, he still loves war-gaming - a complex version of chess, writes Martin, played with models. the Major General will paint the often elaborate tiny military figures and land features.

He told Martin he found focusing on a tiny detail relaxing and a great pastime.

He is also keen on black powder shooting, which uses old-fashioned muzzle-loading weapons.

"I had a friend who did black powder shooting and that kind of hooked me on to that.

"It wasn't the shooting but where it fitted into the psychology, the same way that I enjoyed fencing with swords and sabres, that fitted in to what I considered of value about the ethics and values of martial art or military sports and things, rather than 'hey I like swords'."

Judith Martin wrote one of Jones' first challenges would be managing the Defence Force's operations.

"We will have to start looking at options of how we transition out of some of our mission areas," he told her.

"We have put a lot of effort into places like Afghanistan, Timor Leste, Solomon Islands and we are likely to remain in those areas for some time into the future.

"However, we eventually want to see a good transition from a military-focused organisation to civil control, so that those countries or areas are comfortable with the change and things run smoothly after we go."

That took time to plan and prepare for, he said.

Major General tells Martin of the big difference between leadership in defence and the corporate world.

In the military, mistakes meant people died.

"No matter how successful we are in the following year people are still lost to us. It's a sobering thought and hangs over everything we do here."

Major General Rhys Jones:

Has commanded at every senior level, including:

* Commanding Officer of New Zealand's armoured regiment

* Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles

* Commander 3rd Land Force Group, South Island, New Zealand

* Land Component Commander within HQ Joint Forces New Zealand

* Commander Joint Forces New Zealand

* Chief of Army, 2009

* Head of the Defence Force, 2010

Major General Rhys Jones also has a Master of Arts in strategic studies from La Trobe University, Melbourne. This year he was inducted into the International Hall of Fame, United States Army Combined Arms Centre - he attended staff college at Fort Leavenworth. The centre's website says the IHOF identifies international military student graduates who have attained, through military merit, the highest position in their nation's armed forces, or who have held an equivalent position by rank or responsibility in a multi-national military organisation and who epitomise the professionalism of a CGSC (Command and General Staff College) graduate.

- NZ Herald

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