6 April 2015
Aucklander Jonno Dick, a Captain in the New Zealand Army, has deployed as a Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) liaison officer in cyclone-devastated Vanuatu.
CAPT Dick, 33, is an officer in the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery, which is the unit responsible for supplying CIMIC teams for deployments such as this one.
CIMIC training involves courses in cultural understanding, friendly interaction, languages and use of interpreters. The task group based on CANTERBURY is currently supplying aid and assistance with repairs on Epi Island, and there are three four-man CIMIC teams on board.
CAPT Dick is usually a Forward Observer with 163 Battery, 16 Field Regiment, but as a CIMIC team leader, he is responsible for ensuring the planning team on the ship has accurate information on which to base its operational plans.
“For most Kiwi soldiers this is just fine-tuning, as we are quite adept at interacting with different cultures,” he said.
"We usually move one or two days ahead of the main task group, gathering information on what people’s needs are by engaging with local leaders and personalities, maintaining relationships and providing a single consistent point of contact for the duration of the deployment.”
One of his biggest challenges is to ensure that the most important information is quickly passed back to the ship, after meetings that could generate many pages of notes.
"Whilst we link into a number of sources to assist in planning, being on the ground talking with locals and sending back imagery is a key source of information for the task force," he said.
In his six years’ service he has not been to Vanuatu before but was impressed at how the locals were coping after such a severe event.
“They have repaired many things themselves, with scant resources - just making the most of what they have. Sadly they have been through all this before, so are used to interacting with foreign aid organisations and military forces.
“When we first came ashore and the locals identified us as Kiwis, straight away we were told about the many links between New Zealand and Epi. Several of the key personalities on the island such as the midwife and school principal have been to New Zealand on training exchanges and Kiwi aid has helped with some of the structures here.
“It was awesome to arrive and be accepted so quickly just because we are New Zealanders," he said.
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