Separated by wars in foreign continents, New Zealand Defence Force personnel stationed overseas know a thing or two about isolation from loved ones. But in the past, that separation was marked only by danger on their side of the divide. As Anzac Day dawns on New Zealand deployments in Lebanon, South Korea, Iraq and Egypt, soldiers awake to a new reality. They too fear for the health of their vulnerable family and friends back in Aotearoa. They know that even illness will not reunite them.

Anzac Day 2020 will be even more sombre than usual. There will be no crowded dawn ceremonies at memorials across the country. But the service of NZDF staff across the globe will not cease. Here, in their own words, is a snapshot of their lives navigating military conflict amid a pandemic.

Bobbi Orr, 37, a captain in the New Zealand Army. Originally from Waipukurau but moved to Christchurch at the start of the year. Has served in the military for seven years

Captain Bobbi Orr has been stationed in Lebanon as a United Nations Military Observer for three months. Photo / supplied
Captain Bobbi Orr has been stationed in Lebanon as a United Nations Military Observer for three months. Photo / supplied

I've been ​deployed to Observer Group Lebanon for three months so far. My role is that of a United Nations Military Observer (UNMO).

UNMOs are un-armed and are trained to observe and report violations of the agreements of ceasefire, disengagement, etc. ​

We have experienced a number of significant changes here since Covid-19 became a global pandemic.

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As Covid-19 rapidly spread through parts of Europe, the Government of Lebanon was also quick to respond by closing its borders and implementing a number of preventative measures to protect its people.

We had to change rostering systems to ensure social distancing between teams, local municipalities have roadblocks and checkpoints in place to limit traffic into villages, temperature checks are conducted when entering UN positions, and although we are always careful, we have to be particularly diligent as any accident or emergency will be much harder to manage.

A number of UNMOs are also in a difficult situation as some that were due to go home have been told their mission will extend until at least June 30, 2020 - and likely longer.

When we have "days off", it is almost worse than NZ. We have to wear masks and gloves when we are not in our accommodation and can only leave for essential supplies and medical emergencies between 5am and 8pm.

We are not even permitted to go for a walk or a run outside, so you very quickly become a caged lion.

​Bobbi Orr, 37, has been deployed to Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), part of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) for three months so far. Photo / Supplied
​Bobbi Orr, 37, has been deployed to Observer Group Lebanon (OGL), part of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) for three months so far. Photo / Supplied

Having said this, I am very grateful to have a job, so things are not so bad when you put it all in perspective.

​It is tough on any deployment being away from family and friends, but in this case home seems much further away when you know you cannot get back if you had to.

My mother is considered a vulnerable person, and of course I am worried about her, but she is also one of the toughest people I know.

I was originally booked to travel to Gallipoli this ​year for Anzac Day, a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, however this will not eventuate.

In some respects, this year may have more significance for New Zealanders and Australians than in the past as a lot of people will never have had to make the kinds of sacrifices many are making at the moment.

Commemorating Anzac Day also reminds us that we can rise out of adversity.

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Focus: Poet laureate David Eggleton recites Anzac Day poem in a time of Covid-19.

Kyu-Han KYEONG, 29, a lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Lives in Auckland's North Shore and has served in the military for five years

​Kyu-Han Kyeong has been stationed at Camp Bonifas for six months. It is a UN Command military post located 400 m south of the southern boundary of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Photo / supplied
​Kyu-Han Kyeong has been stationed at Camp Bonifas for six months. It is a UN Command military post located 400 m south of the southern boundary of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Photo / supplied

I've been stationed at Camp Bonifas, South Korea, for six months as an engineer and the Assistant Joint Duty Officer (AJDO).

We help ensure access to the Demilitarised Zone is done safely and ensure any hostilities of the Korean War and its participants do not flare up.

The most obvious change with Covid-19 pandemic is the hand sanitiser!

Like any deployment, being separated from family and loved ones, for any duration of time, is always difficult. More so as we know that the lock-down in New Zealand (and the hecticness we read of it in the news) would have been stressful for everyone.

My parents and relatives, in NZ and in Korea, have been doing well.

We in the Joint Security Area have not had significant hostilities for a while, though we remain ready to respond diplomatically at all times.

The tours which were offered to the public were shut down last year due to the African Swine Fever, in efforts to contain the outbreak.

We have been shut down to the public since, however, the work has remained steady if not gotten busier - we're been catching up on a lot of admin!

I guess for us in Korea, with Covid-19 and social distancing still enforced, Anzac Day will be problematic to commemorate.

I will make time to discuss the significance of the day with my US peers here at Camp Bonifas, and our alliance not just under Anzac, but globally as well.

Jaden Frunt, 28, a flight lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, 28, Christchurch. Has served in the military for six years.

Flight Lieutenant Jaden Frunt has been stationed at Camp Bonifas, which is a combined Republic of Korea and US military installation near the Demilitarized Zone, since October 2019. Photo / supplied
Flight Lieutenant Jaden Frunt has been stationed at Camp Bonifas, which is a combined Republic of Korea and US military installation near the Demilitarized Zone, since October 2019. Photo / supplied

I've been stationed at Camp Bonifas, South Korea, a few hundred metres from the Demilitarized Zone, since October 2019.

Here in Korea, I am the Assistant Corridor Control Officer working in the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC).

Not a lot of people are aware there are two highways that run between the North and South.

My job involves approving crossings of people and goods between South and North Korea.

Since January 30, North Korea has not allowed the crossing of any South Koreans into North Korea due to the emergence of Covid-19.

Being separated from family and friends is a challenging aspect of any deployment, but even more so with the uncertainty that the world faces right now.

It is comforting to hear from my family back home that the NZDF has been providing regular updates to them, and ensuring they are doing okay while I'm away.

I will say I've never used video calling as much in my life as since I've been in Korea!

Understandably, the Anzac Day commemorations in Seoul have been cancelled this year.

South Korea is enforcing social distancing to reduce the impact of Covid-19, a move which we fully support.

This past 6 months I've gained a deeper appreciation for the sacrifice past and present Kiwi and Australian soldiers have made in foreign wars and conflicts all around the globe.

Visiting the site of the Battle of Kapyong, where a battery of NZ artillery fought between April 22-25 1951, was a special moment.

Seeing the site where New Zealanders, Australians, Canadian and British troops fought side by side, and how the local population that now live in the town of Kapyong, still understand and appreciate the sacrifice made by these soldiers, was moving.

Ashwin Agastya, 33, Auckland. Has served in the military for 7 years.

​Ashwin Agastya has been stationed in the Middle East Region for the past five months. Photo / supplied
​Ashwin Agastya has been stationed in the Middle East Region for the past five months. Photo / supplied

I've been stationed in the Middle East Region working as a supply technician providing logistics support to NZDF force elements for five months.

I assist in management and accounting of all stores such as ammunition, weapons and personal protective equipment.

Since the pandemic, we have had to adapt to the changing situation, which meant taking on tasks outside of my job description.

We have been taking Covid-19 precautions such as social distancing, keeping a two-metre distance, avoiding crowded areas, wearing of gloves and face mask while interacting outside of Kiwi lines, and using hand sanitiser.

I work in a coalition environment consisting of Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, Dutch, British, Italians, and Emiratis.

Since Covid-19, there has been a noticeable reduction of movements in and out of my location.

Amenities at camp such as gym, dining in at mess hall, travelling outside of the camp boundaries has been highly restricted.

I use NZDF ethos and values of courage and commitment in order to maintain composure and performance.

I've created a fitness workout plan using the resources available within the Kiwi lines to maintain a healthy body and mind.

NZDF training has helped me to prepare well for situations like this to maintain a high level of resilience and remember duty comes before self.

On a personal note, both of my parents are over the age of 50 and I'm definitely worried about them.

With modern technology, I am in constant contact with my family and have advised my parents to strengthen their immune system via healthy eating and regular exercise.

Being away from loved ones for a long time is always challenging and this pandemic amplifies the effects.


Tim Woodman, 59, acting lieutenant colonel, lives in Palmerston North. Spent 37 years with British Army, and served five years in NZ Army.

​Tim Woodman, right,will have been stationed at south camp, Sharm-el-Sheik, Sinai, Egypt, for 359 Days on Anzac Day. Photo / supplied
​Tim Woodman, right,will have been stationed at south camp, Sharm-el-Sheik, Sinai, Egypt, for 359 Days on Anzac Day. Photo / supplied

I will have been stationed in Sinai, Egypt, for 359 Days on Anzac Day.

I am responsible to the Joint Force Commander for the deployment of 30 New Zealanders.

This includes writing orders, updates and the coordination of such things as the camp maintenance plan, new building projects and the vehicle fleet master plan.

Covid-19 has changed the way we work but we are still completing the mission.

Movement on and off the camp has been restricted to operationally essential movements since March 9, 2020.

My partner, Shelly, is a major in the NZDF and she has been leading her company in New Zealand.

She has also had to look after our two sons and support them through distance learning for Massey University and Whanganui Collegiate School.

Her job is probably a lot harder than mine trying to balance all her commitments whereas I have the contingent to look after me.

The magnitude of the global Covid-19 pandemic and the uncertainty it has created is especially difficult for our families at home.

We are of course all worried. I also have older siblings who fit into the high-risk areas due to their age.

My brother Geoffrey lives in the UK and my sister Margaret lives in the US.

We are comforted knowing that our leaders back home are ensuring our families are not forgotten and that they are planning for our safe and speedy return as soon as the circumstances allow it to happen.

To make us feel at home, the force commander's wife, a proud New Zealander, and three members of our contingent have baked Anzac biscuits for Anzac Day.


Major Y. Lives in Auckland

Major Y has been deployed to New Zealand's contribution to the multinational counter-ISIS mission in Iraq known as Operation Inherent Resolve. Photo / supplied
Major Y has been deployed to New Zealand's contribution to the multinational counter-ISIS mission in Iraq known as Operation Inherent Resolve. Photo / supplied

I am currently deployed to New Zealand's contribution to the multinational counter-ISIS mission in Iraq known as Operation Inherent Resolve.

In the course of my duties I have been working between Camp Arifjan in Kuwait and Camp Union III in Baghdad, Iraq.

I have been deployed for three months. My role is to co-ordinate the scheduling of training of Iraqi Security Force units by coalition forces.

The environment here is very similar regarding Covid-19 precautions to back home.

Physical distancing and good hygiene practices have been the main weapons to control the spread of Covid-19.

Our bubble has not been able to be drawn down to small groups due to the nature of our business.

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We have also faced the same drawdown with businesses being closed, as at home, within the bases we are working.

Military community welfare facilitates, the post exchange and gymnasiums, along with shops and any out of hour activities where large groups of personnel would gather have been closed or cancelled.

We are all concerned about our families especially as we are not at home to provide support through this time.

Thankfully technology at least allows us to communicate on a regular basis providing a degree of support to our loved ones.

From afar we can see New Zealand has taken a good path controlling the Covid-19 pandemic nationally; this does help to ease any worry you may have about your family and friends.

We have all also recognised it will be quite a different situation when we return home from our deployment.

It will not just be us who have had new experiences and lived through change and uncertainty.


• To make a donation to the RSA visit this Givealittle page

• Join us from 5.45am on Saturday for the virtual Anzac Day Dawn Service at nzherald.co.nz or Newstalk ZB

• Print out our special Anzac Day poster, pin it in your window and help us line the streets with poppies.