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Army officer cadets take over Stratford, Mayor evacuated, open day a success

“Rifle shots” rang out around the Taranaki town of Stratford as New Zealand Army Officer Cadets were put under the pump during realistic training scenarios where they also had to keep the town’s mayor safe.

08 November, 2022

An “enemy party”, made up of New Zealand Defence Force personnel, ambushed the officers and their units at Stratford Aerodrome as part of Exercise Santici, held over two weeks last month.

The officers and their units, armed with MARS-L rifles and blank ammunition, were forced to take shelter behind whatever they could find and then regroup, decide on tactics, give orders, set up a cordon, return fire and quickly change tasks as they reacted to the danger around them.

The New Zealand Officer Cadet School is responsible for the training and development of the New Zealand Army’s potential commissioned officers, and this type of training was key for any Officer Cadet to learn how to be a good soldier, said senior instructor Captain Jonty Hooson. 

The Stratford exercise involved 24 Officer Cadets and about 45 supporting infantry, signals, medical, intelligence, drivers and logistics personnel.

Captain Hooson said the cadets were in the final of their three major stages of assessment before graduation in December and heading off to various Army roles.

“In this last stage they are left to their own devices a lot more. Here is your task, go and complete it.

“So it can be a nervous time for the Officer Cadets.”

A soldier aims their weapon on the top of a white wooden framed, chain fence with a tan Army vehicle behind them. A soldier wearing a camouflage uniform, helmet and glasses stands guard as the sun flares above them. A soldier laying on the grass alongside a vehicle, aiming through the sights of their weapon.

Officer cadets during complex training exercises in Stratford

Training in an urban environment was very different to the previous open and close country exercises, he said.

Exercise Santici involved a range of tasks, including securing important locations, vehicle checks, food distribution, setting up cordons and conducting searches.

Some of the activities took place on Stratford’s streets, attracting curious locals who exchanged smiles and waves with the soldiers. 

Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke even got involved, being escorted by Officer Cadets from his chambers to the air field as they prepared to “evacuate” him from danger. 

An open day on 14 October attracted hundreds of locals. As it was school holidays it allowed families to come down and see different military equipment and meet military personnel, Captain Hooson said.

“We appreciate their support and their hospitality,” he said.