Sunday, July 22, 2012

From High Risk To High Wire

Apiata: operational security
was blown by NZ Herald...
Willie has handed his MP5 back to the quartermaster.
I was surprised at the news that our Victoria Cross recipient Cpl.Willie Apiata of the NZSAS has left the Green Machine.
I was also surprised at how quiet it all was. Willie had become almost a superhero, a staunch but modest VC winner in the style of legendary Charles Upham, a posterboy for the I'd have expected a lot more hoohah. NZ has in the past made much more noise over much less. One commentator mused that he "can't see the NZRFU acting like this when Richie McCaw finally calls it a day" - yeup, that's a good illustration of 'much less'!
So why did Willie leave? Well, he's 39, been in the Defence Force for 23 years, 10 years in the elite SAS. He's recently married, so maybe he felt his priorities lay in other areas.
He'll work with youth charity High Wire Trust, an Auckland outdoor pursuits centre that helps at-risk young people. Prime Minister John Key says Willie would be a fantastic role model, but his departure is a great loss.
Kia kaha, Willie!
Certainly will be right now: the NZ Defence Force is hemorrhaging servicemen and women, morale is low, there's a pay freeze and the Govt is cost-cutting left right and centre. The rumour mill (as is often the case in a rushed exit) is hinting at deeper issues to Apiata's departure - which if untrue is very unfair to the Big Man.
At the very least, the Army should have given him some sort of hi-profile send-off where he could extol the virtues of a career as a soldier. One more PR 'bite of the cherry' for Brand Apiata.
Perhaps his retirement from active service was an inevitability. Since being awarded the VC in 2007, Apiata's been public property - not good for a man who needed to keep a low profile in his job. Once NZ Herald decided in its dubious wisdom to publish photos of him in combat "for the public good", he became too well-known for his own safety.
The fact that Willie's staying on as an SAS reserve shows he still loves the military. But with no post-combat role planned for him, no co-ordinated media de-brief, a messy press release, no worthy send-off, does the military still love him?
The way this entire business was handled raises some doubts...

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