24 August 2012
LTCOL William Twiss, Commanding Officer of Exercise Tropic Twilight, Samoa 2012.
Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) William Twiss, Commanding Officer of the New Zealand Defence Force’s three-week humanitarian mission in Samoa, baulked when he was first approached about the idea of a profile.
"My role is no greater than that of another member of the contingent. All of us contribute equally to the success of this operation," said the soft-spoken, self-effacing Army officer from Wellington, who led the 100-strong contingent deployed to Samoa on a humanitarian aid and disaster response (HADR) exercise.
Exercise Tropic Twilight, which was conducted by the NZDF in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 28 July to 19 August, marked the first HADR exercise led by this seasoned officer who joined the Army at age 16.
"The exercise aims to test our ability to respond at short notice in the event of a natural disaster in the Pacific," according to LTCOL Twiss, who is Commanding Officer of the Army’s 2nd Health Support Battalion based at Linton Military Camp.
The training scenario saw the Army’s Forward Surgical Team (FST) being deployed to Samoa to help local authorities clear a backlog of minor surgeries as the Pacific island-nation recovers from the wrath of a fictional cyclone. The key deliverables included conducting at least 40 minor surgeries and primary health care and dental outreach programmes in the main island of ‘Upolu (where the Samoan capital of Apia is located) and the neighbouring Savai’i island.
"I am impressed by the way the Air Force, Navy, Army Reserve and civilian volunteers have integrated with our Regular Force component. The ability to project, set up, operate, sustain ourselves and then prepare to get home has been an excellent test of our skills," LTCOL Twiss said.
The FST conducted 61 minor surgeries, 153 dental treatments, 81 physiotherapy, 834 primary health care checks including 310 on schoolchildren, vaccinated 845 children and taught 604 others about the importance of oral hygiene during the three-week exercise.
His reasonable firmness and dry humour made LTCOL Twiss a popular figure amongst members of the contingent, who comprised Army doctors, nurses, medics, engineers, reservist surgeons and anaesthetists, and healthcare volunteers.
During one of the nightly meetings with senior officers at the Forward Operating Base set up on the grounds of a Samoan high school, LTCOLd Twiss reminded them that "the end of our meeting does not mean we stop working. I expect you to treat my orders with urgency."
When it was suggested that the tap water at the back of the school, which was the sole source of drinkable water for the entire contingent, was not safe for drinking, he ended the debate with a cryptic comment: "My stomach says it’s fine."
After attending Sunday service at a Catholic basilica, he quipped: "The singing was fantastic, only it was not ours."
Perhaps, there is no greater tribute to this officer than two of his sons following in his footsteps. Eldest child Aaron is a Signaller in the Army’s 1 Signals Regiment. Second child Patrick also plans to enlist after finishing high school later this year. The youngest, Cameron, may also follow suit.
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