End of an era for Waiouru Military Camp as it drops basic training

By Sam Kilmister -
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CEASE FIRE: Recruits preparing anti-personnel mines at Waiouru army camp.
CEASE FIRE: Recruits preparing anti-personnel mines at Waiouru army camp.

The army is calling time on basic training in Waiouru by moving it to new, purpose-built facilities in the South Island.

The move, scheduled for 2018, will see all of the camp's new recruits undergo basic training at Burnham, Christchurch.

Chief of Army Major General Peter Kelly said in the Army News newsletter the move is driven by families wanting more choice with housing, jobs and schooling for their children.

"What is clear is the majority of our army must be located by major cities, offering all our military families the ability to build strong links into the local community. Unfortunately, as great as Waiouru is, it cannot and will never be able to provide this level of choice."

Major General Kelly says the two primary camps will be Linton, which is already at or near capacity, and Burnham, which has plenty of capacity to expand. While this does not spell the end for the Waiouru Military Camp, it is set for a major downgrade, serving only as an area for arms training.

Major General Kelly called Waiouru a "great bit of dirt" and is the army's largest and most important training area. It is the only area in New Zealand where they can conduct combined arms live field firing training.

"My intent going forward is that Waiouru will continue to be our premiere training area for combined arms training, including all aspects of live field firing, and we will invest heavily into future-proofing the training area to meet our operational needs."

Waiouru Motors owner Steve Vine said while he has done plenty of business with the army in the past, it is unlikely to affect him.

"I've done plenty [of business] with them. My father was in the army. But it doesn't bother me. I'm past all that."

The announcement was not an upset. "It doesn't surprise me at all. I've been here 30-odd years and nothing surprises me with [the army] any more."

A former sheep station, Waiouru was first set up to train territorials in the 1930s. In its heyday as a training base the town had a population of 6000 but now has fewer than 800 residents.

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