The mountains and tropical valleys of Fiji’s Nausori Highlands have provided the ideal grounds for jungle warfare and weapons training during an annual bilateral exercise.
A contingent of 92 New Zealand Army personnel took part in Exercise Cartwheel 23, led by Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) and US Army Pacific.
Major Michael Doughty, the NZ Army’s Senior National Officer on the ground, said the aim was to build light infantry and combat-support skills, while improving interoperability between nations.
He said this year’s training expanded on what the NZ Army delivered during Exercise Cartwheel 22.
“Last year we demonstrated the use of 81-millimetre mortars and sustained fire machine guns, but there was no formal course for the RFMF soldiers.”
“This year, we’ve been providing courses for Fiji personnel, which means they’re receiving the same training as we do in these weapons systems.
“Our personnel from the 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and 16th Field Regiment delivered a Mortar Handlers course and a Heavy Machine Gun course, for 3rd Battalion of Fiji Infantry Regiment students.”
Major Mikaele Masiwini, the RFMF Contingent Commander, said the exercise was not just about the combat training, but about building on friendships for years to come.
“Our relationship with the New Zealand Defence Force goes back well before this exercise and we have similar values to the Kiwis. We share the valuing of our family and our culture.
“A great example of this is that you do not need to invite the Kiwi soldiers to join in with our Devotion – prayer time – or a meal, they just know to turn up.
“The Kiwis have led the way and shown the other nations on the exercise how to relate to our Fijian culture.”
Major Doughty said the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) had been training and working with its partners in the RFMF for many years.
“We’re really happy to have another opportunity to work together and continue to build on our interoperability, so that when we’re on operations together we understand and operate the same systems and know how each other works.
“We enjoy working with, and learning from, our Pacific whānau.
“Not only that, this training ensures our personnel are combat capable, well equipped and fully prepared for employment across the spectrum of military operations,” he said.
As well as delivering training, NZDF personnel also donned their camouflage and learnt about jungle warfare alongside personnel from Fiji, the US and Australia.
Major Doughty said this included jungle survival lessons from UK military trainers, rappel training led by the US contingent, and jungle lanes live field firing where troops advanced down a prepared route and engaged with a fictional enemy.
Lieutenant Cody Broad, who was involved in delivering the Mortar Handlers course, said the exercise was a great experience.
“We lived with the Fijians, both in camp and in the field, and it was great really getting to know them and learning how to live in the bush.
“It was also great to be back ‘on the tools’ in Fiji as a soldier, and being able to compare ourselves against four other nations.”
Exercise Cartwheel 23 comes after the New Zealand and Fiji governments signed a Status of Forces Agreement in June, to further strengthen the two nations’ defence relationship. This will come into effect in the coming months.
“A secure, stable and resilient Pacific region benefits us all, and the NZDF is committed to supporting efforts to maintain that environment,” Major Doughty said.
Exercise Cartwheel 23 ran from 3-25 September.