26 Aug 2012

PM says soldiers did not die in vain

5:18 am on 26 August 2012

The Prime Minister has told the families of three soldiers killed by a bomb blast in Afghanistan their lives were not spent in vain.

John Key was speaking at the memorial service for Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance-Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris, which was held today at Burnham Military Camp near Christchurch.

Mr Key said the soldiers' families were entitled to ask whether the war they were fighting was just.

"Your loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice and I would completely understand if you asked that question. So let me say this: it matters that we stand up for what is right. It matters that lawlessness and violence do not become a way of life. Fundamentally it matters that we care."

John Key said the soldiers were people their families and New Zealand could be proud of.

The Governor-General Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mataparae said with 10 servicemen now killed in Afghanistan, it was right in a democracy like New Zealand to question the reconstruction campaign.

He called the three soldiers "the brave children of the god of war" and said they best represent the country's collective fight against tyranny.

The memorial service at Burnham Military Camp

The memorial service at Burnham Military Camp Photo: RNZ

The commanding officer of the three soldiers said the memorial service was a chance to show their families how much the soldiers meant to their army colleagues.

Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Michie also said the attendance of the Prime Minister was important.

"We of course serve the government and we really appreciate the government representatives, the people who make the key decisions that govern our operations, being here to show their support.

"And I suppose in many ways too, to show they understand the gravity of the decisions they make."

Tears and laughter

During the service, family and friends spoke with both tears and laughter as they remembered the three soldiers.

The most laughs were reserved for a speech given by the trio's commanding officer in Afghanistan Major Craig Wilson who was wounded in a gun battle two weeks ago.

Books of remembrance at the service at Burnham.

Books of remembrance at the service at Burnham. Photo: RNZ

Major Wilson spoke of Jacinda Baker as a determined medic who was the "mother hen" of Bravo and Kiwi companies.

He described Richard Harris as "morale gold" and praised his skills as a gunner.

"Just how dedicated he was to fulfilling this role was demonstrated by his actions when the forward patrol base at Dwabi was attacked at night.

"He sprang to his post without pausing to get fully dressed and there he was, pouring fire back at the enemy with his beloved machine gun, dressed in his body armour, his helmet ..... and his undies."

Major Wilson described Luke Tamatea as one of the strongest, bravest and most skilled soldiers he had ever known.

"If you ever got thrown a rifle and sent out into an area against Luke, you would lose. The man was a sniper supervisor, a skilled tracker and he had passed the SAS selection course twice. He was uncompromising in his work in the field."

The three caskets were carried from the service to a rousing haka and will be returned to their families for private services.

This is the second service in as many weeks.

Lance-Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in an ambush in Bamyan province on 4 August.