'Poor' SAS soldiers used discarded US gear, court martial told

By Heather McCracken

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

"Poor'' Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan used discarded United States gear to upgrade their kit, and could have taken a surplus helicopter from the American base if they wanted to, a court martial heard today.

An Army storeman was giving evidence at a court martial of an SAS soldier accused of stealing New Zealand Defence Force property and offering it for sale at a gun shop.

The soldier has defended the charges, saying he honestly believed the items were his own - bought online while on deployment in Afghanistan, acquired from the US disposal bin, or from a New Zealand Army disposal crate.

The storeman, who worked with the soldier's squadron in Afghanistan, confirmed New Zealanders would help themselves to discarded equipment at the US Air Force base.

"If it was missing a screw or something they [US military] usually just biffed it away,'' he said.

"Us Kiwis being kind of poor we used to go there and sign for stuff.

"There was a helicopter there at one stage that I saw that if you could fly it out and sign for it, it was yours. You could get anything you wanted there.''

The sergeant said one of his jobs in Afghanistan was to pick up items soldiers had ordered from websites, and many bought their own gear to upgrade or supplement their kit.

The defence witness also confirmed all the accused soldier's army issued kit had been accounted for when he returned and none was missing.

A senior SAS officer also gave evidence that it was common for members to buy extra gear to upgrade army issue equipment.

He was among three military staff to give evidence in support of the accused's character.

``I believe him to be a very good soldier. Over these four years he's really given me no reason to doubt his integrity.''

The accused soldier had earlier given evidence about spending US$15,000 on his own kit while serving in Afghanistan, including body armour and charging handles for his rifles.

The Army issue handle was dangerous for ambidextrous shooters to use, he said.

"Being a young up-and-coming soldier and mad keen on gear and getting amongst it, I was on the internet daily buying stuff,'' he said.

"For myself and for my guys, it makes me safer in the combat environment.''

The soldier faces charges of stealing Defence Force property in relation to two gun sights, a charging handle for a military rifle and a pistol holster, which he offered for sale at Serious Shooters gun shop in Penrose.

He is also charged with unlawfully possessing Army property in relation to a block of plastic explosive, thunder flashes and ammunition found in his garage.

He said he didn't know how the items came to be in the garage, but it was used by other Army personnel and was not locked.

He has admitted failing to follow written orders by storing a privately-owned gun in his barracks room.

The defence closed its case this afternoon. Closing statements and the judge's summing up will be heard before the three military members deliberate.

- APNZ

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