Navy Man Gets to Work With the Big Guns

12 December 2018

A father-son chat while surfcasting on a remote Northland beach has led to a talented young man being fast-tracked through the Royal New Zealand Navy’s (RNZN) weapons engineering programme.

Able Weapons Technician Nathan Paniora, 21, from Dargaville, was book-smart but too restless to sit behind a desk.

“I did well academically, but I was terrible in the classroom,” he said. “Bookwork doesn’t sit well with me.”

Three months before finishing year 13 at Dargaville High School, he was surfcasting at night with his father at Omamari Beach.

“Everything was quiet, nothing was biting. That’s when we do our talking. He said, ‘what’s your plan?’ I told him I would just waste four years and a lot of money at university. He said, ‘Have you considered the military?’”

Able Weapons Technician Paniora did his research. He enjoyed maths, and was interested in engineering. He joined the RNZN straight after school, starting in January 2015.

“My parents brought me to Devonport. Mum cried, and my dad shook my hand and said, ‘Good luck’.”

He went through Basic Common Training, then a year of weapon engineering training. Part-way through the trainees are asked if they would like to specialise as weapons technicians.

“I was dead keen. Honestly, big toys are cool. Weapons are a lot more hands-on – it’s more of a physical job. You get in, you get your hands dirty. I really enjoy it.”

After trade training, he served on frigate HMNZS Te Mana for a year, and was then posted to Australia to do the Mk 45 five-inch gun course – the main weapon of a frigate.

He is now on courses at Devonport working towards his promotion to Leading Weapons Technician.

“It’s a lot of bookwork,” he laughed. “I joined up to avoid it, but it catches up with you. You understand why you have to do it.”

He said the training could be hard, but his father always said, if you love something, it’s not hard.

“I want to get promoted, and definitely would like to get back out to sea. Either of the frigates would be great.

“Being able to work every day with Mini-typhoon (remote-controlled .50-calibre machine guns), loading the Phalanx Close in Weapon System, which fires 4500 rounds per minute, or controlling a 21-tonne, 5-inch gun system with my own two hands is pretty surreal.”

He has talked to a lot of people thinking about joining the military, but found that a lot were scared of the idea of basic training.

“You’re always active, always doing something, and you take every day as it comes. It’s only 18 weeks of your life, and all of a sudden it’s your last week.”

His advice about career choices in the RNZN is “give it a go”.

“Your trade is not set in stone – you can always change your mind and do another trade.

“Being in the Navy is endless. If you love sports, you can travel the world. It’s a place full of opportunity – you just have to get amongst it.”

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.