19 February 2020
When Lower Hutt man Andrew Wickham joined the New Zealand Army in 1990 his recruiter didn’t tell him he would spend a good part of the next 30 years posted to some of the most unforgiving places in the world in testing conditions.
However, that has been the reality, with postings to Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Afghanistan three times and now Iraq, and Staff Sergeant Wickham wouldn’t change a thing.
He is currently the ANZAC Task Group Taji 10 communications planner and subject matter expert at the Taji Military Complex in Iraq.
New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and Australian Defence Force personnel have been jointly delivering training to Iraqi Security Forces in Taji Military Complex as part of the Build Partner Capacity Mission. Task Group Taji has trained more than 46,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces and law enforcement agency personnel since 2015.
For Staff Sergeant Wickham, who was born in Lower Hutt and went to Wainuiomata College, the challenge of such deployments is what he likes most.
“Operations need communications and that’s what I provide, the link between the operator on the ground to the headquarters and rest of the world,” he said.
While conceding he has had to work in some challenging environments, he said every deployment had offered him unique experiences and an opportunity to learn and ply his trade in interesting and new ways.
“I flew into Baghdad last week to set up a network, which was a great experience,” he said. “The apartment I stayed in had an ensuite and double bed, which was a slight change to the bombed-out hospital I slept in for six months at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan.”
Throughout his career his best experiences have come from the people he has served with and the interesting problems he has been required to solve.
“The work has been great and the people I’ve met along the way have defined my experience,” he said.
“It’s not always easy being away from home but your mates get you through and some of the funniest and best people I’ve met have been in bunkers with me.”
He is now passing on his knowledge and experience to the junior members of his team.
“I wouldn’t trade a thing from my time in the Army,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of it, from working with Special Operations to exercises back home in the cold.
“The only advice I would give those coming through the ranks would be to work your hardest, because the Army will give you back more than you put in.”
The Kiwi contingent from Task Group Taji 10 are due to return to New Zealand from Iraq by mid-year.
The current ANZAC rotation is mentoring the Iraq Security Force and building its institutional capacity.