Chief of Defence Force's words at funeral of LT O’Donnell

11 August 2010

E kore koe e koroheketia
pēnei i a mātou kua mahue nei
Takoto mai e taku rākau kawa
ki runga i te puhirere
i whakarerea e ngā manu taki
Kei te tangi te motu i tēnei rā
Takoto, takoto, takoto mārire mai.
Tēnā koutou e te iwi
Tēnā koutou me o koutou aituā,
Tēnā anō tātou i rāro i te kahu mōtea

You shall grow not old
Like us who are left behind
Lay in state my valiant warrior
On the mourning platform
That has been left by the champions of yesteryear.
The nation grieves today
Lay in state, rest, rest in peace
I greet the people
And acknowledge your fallen
Salutations to us all under the cloth of bereavement.

Mark and Mary-Anne O’Donnell, Andrew and Anna and the wider O’Donnell and Farmer families, soldiers and officers of CRIB 16, and the 1st and 2nd/1st Battalions of the RNZIR and the wider New Zealand Defence Force family, I acknowledge your loss today.

Your Excellency the Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand and Lady Satyanand, Kingi Tuheitia and Te Atawhai, the Rt Hon John Key, Ministers of the Crown, Leader of the Opposition the Hon Phil Goff, distinguished guests otherwise, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. 

When I was asked by the family to speak today, I thought about what perspective I could bring to help share and celebrate the life of LT Timothy Andrew O’Donnell, DSD.  Being third in the order of march has its challenges, the upside is that there is someone to follow and LTCOL Hugh McAslan is at my back!

As the Chief of Defence Force I really straddle a couple of worlds. To the Government I am a source of advice about military policy and priorities. To the soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women who must enact those policies on a daily basis, my job is to ensure they have the resources and training to succeed.  In other words, I translate the intentions and perspectives of one to the other to get things done.

So it is somewhere in there that I will speak this afternoon; somewhere between the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of LT O’Donnell’s contribution to the New Zealand Defence Force.

Let me say outright, that in situations such as these, my, or indeed any words, seem inadequate.  At times I will borrow the words of others, or their ideas or imagery and translate them for you, but they are my thoughts about. Lt Timothy O’Donnell.

And so I will start with a quote from someone else:

“My confidence in the youth of this generation is waning rapidly. They are defiant of authority, either civic or parental, they have little respect for law, order or decency and they deride as outdated the moral principle on which our society is based. Their mode of dress is unbecoming to either sex, and they are preoccupied with themselves and their pleasures to observe even the simplest moralities. I fear there is no hope for them.”

That was Peter the Monk, who lived roughly a thousand years ago. Some views never change, I guess.

I start there because just like Peter the Monk, there are some voices in our community who cannot see the positive and irrepressible energy, talent and drive of our young people. I disagree with them. We see these qualities in those who join the Defence Force, and Tim O’Donnell was a striking example.

When I send young New Zealanders on operational missions it is in the context that there is some risk.  And with Afghanistan the risk is high that an enemy might take the fight to them is always possible.  So we need young men and women who are committed, courageous and honest. They need to be able to work with their mates and others. In short, we need people who are decent, motivated and yet spirited. And for those we select to lead our soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen, we expect, I expect, much more.  LT Tim O’Donnell was a striking example.

Here, I would share with you some thoughts from Tim’s commanding officer in Afghanistan LT COL John Boswell, which further underscores these points:

“Before he was anything else Tim was a soldier. He was hard on himself and he was hard on those he commanded. He was also, on occasions, hard on those who commanded him – always looking at the ways and means he could enhance the operation he was undertaking; improve the resources available to his soldiers; execute his responsibilities to a higher standard … He was never shy in coming forward, and when he did, it inevitably made good sense…”

My second set of words and image, point to a piece of every-day proverbial wisdom – You’ve probably all heard the expression, “In for a penny, in for pound”.

The image I have is two-fold, a young officer in combat uniform in Afghanistan and the same man in Service Dress.  Both images convey the point about leadership; it’s about making a decision, and once made, staying the course. It’s also, I believe, about doing something once, and doing it right.

Tim of course showed these qualities while deployed with Victor Company to Timor Leste 2006/2007.  His command and leadership was exemplary, and that’s why he was awarded New Zealand’s Distinguished Service Decoration.

I would like to turn now to Tim’s activities with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the PRT in Afghanistan.

Tim was the patrol commander of Kiwi Team 2. Much of what he was doing in the Bamyan Province of Afghanistan was highlighted in a recent series of Television New Zealand reports.

Essentially the New Zealand PRT provides security which allows for the delivery of aid and reconstruction – it’s a humanitarian mission, but with the expectation they may need to fight to defend themselves and the locals in their charge if under attack.

I can tell you that on the 3rd of August, the day of the contact with insurgents, Tim was leading his patrol to an area in the north east of Bamyan, the Khamard district.

The patrol had both a humanitarian and security focus. Wire mesh gabion baskets had been delivered to a village so they could rebuild their flood protection wall.

To a second village the patrol took seeds and fertiliser as the villagers’ crops had been damaged by recent flooding.

The patrol then conducted training with the Afghan National Police at a nearby checkpoint before commencing the return journey to their home base. It was on this return journey that the patrol was ambushed by insurgents and Tim was killed.

By all accounts Tim’s patrol was well prepared and responded superbly when they came under attack from positions of dominance in the terrain. Tim had given his team clear orders on how to react if attacked and they carried out his intent, as Tim would have insisted, to the letter. Two of Tim’s vehicle crew and their interpreter were injured, and that other casualties were not sustained in this action is a testament to the training that Tim insisted his patrol practice regularly.

So to Tim’s family I would like to assure you that Tim made a real and tangible difference and an impact on both those around him in his contingent, and to the betterment of the Afghan people.

In the case of the latter, I have been asked to convey the sympathies of the people of Afghanistan to Tim’s family and friends. I quote directly here from a letter I received from the Afghan Ambassador:

“The death of this brave and dedicated soldier was not in vain. He died for the just and noble cause of freedom – not only freedom for the region, but for the world. The continued support by the Government of New Zealand is valued most highly by the people and the Government of Afghanistan, as attempts to reconstruct the country after the ravages of war, and to establish peace and security in the region. We owe him a special debt of gratitude for his sacrifice on behalf of the people of Afghanistan.”

Again if I share the words that John Boswell will speak at a memorial service in Bamyan later today:  “…Tim had real drive, energy and enthusiasm. He had an absolute desire to get the job done, to the best possible standard, at the best possible speed. Anything less than 100 percent and 100 miles per hour was not acceptable to Tim…“

When I think of stories in the media over the past week and the stories from Tim’s families (biological and military) about his life, the ideas that stand out strongest to me are his passion, drive, as well as his zest for life.  His drive, determination and personal attributes as a leader made him a well respected soldier, officer, colleague and comrade. He lived our values, he lived his dream.


This page was last reviewed on 18 January 2011.