31 July 2019
South Auckland man Mark Latu, the first Tongan Warrant Officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), enjoyed a special meeting with King Tupou VI during the Tongan ruler’s recent 60th birthday celebrations.
Warrant Officer Seaman Combat Specialist Latu was in Tonga with the New Zealand contingent, which included Deputy Chief of Navy Commodore Mathew Williams and the Royal New Zealand Navy Band.
Because of rain, the King and Queen received guests in an indoor setting. The Tongans were aware that Warrant Officer Latu had been newly promoted to the position and after the New Zealand contingent had been past once to shake the King’s hand, the King invited Warrant Officer Latu back to talk to him.
Warrant Officer Latu said it was a surreal moment.
“That’s when my palms really started to sweat,” he said. “King Tupou said it was great to see a role model for the next generation of Tongans. I told him there was a lot of talent coming through the ranks and he said to harness that and use my position as a platform.”
Warrant Officer Latu said he was the first person in his family to meet the King.
“It was truly humbling. Tongan custom is to always stay below the King, so I made sure that I was bent to remain below him while talking, and when we had the photo taken he told me to stand up.”
The official visit gave him a real appreciation of what the New Zealand Defence Force senior enlisted officers do, Warrant officer Latu said.
“There is a lot of politics and official functions. That means changing of uniform and making sure you’re ready for what’s happening the next day.”
However, the trip to Tonga wasn’t all business for Warrant Officer Latu, who managed to catch up with family while there.
Next on the cards for him is the development of the RNZN South Pacific Community hui. The aim is to provide support to Pasifika people joining the RNZN and helping the RNZN by providing a community for Pasifika people.
“We can also provide some cultural awareness for people within the Services. Our goal is to see a Pacific Cultural Advisor and a fale next to the marae – that South Pacific Unity within NZDF.”