23 May 2018
While growing up in Parakao, about 40 kilometres west of Whangarei, team sports for Flight Sergeant Leo Wiapo meant playing against his three brothers and father.
“We live quite a way out of Whangarei, so if we wanted to play sports we had to organise it among ourselves,” he said.
As Chief Instructor of the New Zealand Defence Force-led (NZDF) Pacific Physical Training Instructors Course, Flight Sergeant Wiapo is helping teach about 20 students from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga.
The four-week course, which is being conducted at the Fiji Police Academy in Suva until early June, aims to train physical training instructors for partner-militaries in the South West Pacific.
Two other physical training instructors from the NZDF, one from the Australian Defence Force and two from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces are helping run the classes.
Flight Sergeant Wiapo designed the course’s programme, allocated instructors to specific sections, and worked with the contingent commander and logistics personnel to ensure they had all the material and equipment required to run the course.
“The students will need to acquire the skill sets and knowledge that will allow them to be self-sufficient when we leave, so it is important that we cover a bit more in the course,” said Flight Sergeant Wiapo, who is the Chief Instructor of the NZDF’s Defence Physical Education and Recreational School.
“To see the growth of the students over the past two and a half weeks has been amazing. It is exciting and rewarding to be a part of that.”
The month-long engagement with Australian and Pacific forces was a valuable learning opportunity, he said.
“We are working in an unfamiliar environment, so we have to be flexible and think of creative ways of delivering some of the content.”
Encouraged by his mother, Flight Sergeant Wiapo enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 2001.
Initially he was part of the Force Protection Unit, deploying to Timor-Leste in 2002 and the Solomon Islands in 2004. He trained to become a Physical Training Instructor in 2016 and has been nominated as the 2018 RNZAF Sportsperson of the Year, an award he won in 2011 and 2012 for his performances in the RNZAF basketball team.
“The challenges in our job vary all the time and the opportunities that pop up are amazing,” he said. “This course we are going to run for Pacific military personnel is a perfect example - what a great opportunity for all those involved.
“We join the Defence Force because we are keen to be part of an organisation with a purpose. It isn’t just a job.”