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Cyclone Gabrielle tips Hawke's Bay sharpshooter into Reserve Force

As a hunter, Private Ashton Philo normally shoots his targets from about 50m, but extending that out to 300m proved no barrier recently as the Hawke’s Bay farmer came away with both the Top Shot and Top Recruit awards from his New Zealand Army course.

21 February, 2024

“Shooting was a challenge and a highlight for me,” the Puketitiri-based soldier said after the course finished in December.

“I enjoy hunting but it is different shooting with a military weapon system so I needed to adapt, particularly around the distances.  As a hunter I shoot predominantly about 50m whereas we’re shooting 300m on the range.  It’s all about time on tools though, and the instructors give really good guidance.

“There was a lot to take on throughout the six-week course but we had a really good community of people on our recruit training, if someone fell behind there were always volunteers to help them out.”

The 24-year-old, originally from Auckland, had been considering the NZ Army as a career prospect since high school. But Cyclone Gabrielle last year provided the catalyst as he signed up for a spot on the NZ Army Recruit Territorial Force Basic Training Course. 

Private Philo lives and works on his partner’s family farm where the cyclone knocked out the electricity for 30 days and the Rissington Bridge, their main supply route, was destroyed.

With the family being self-sufficient, they were fairly independent during the initial weeks after the cyclone.

“Soldiers from East Coast Company came out to check on our residents. They liked our sense of humour and we all got along really well.  In fact, I gave some venison to the unit.”

A soldier receives shooting training from weapons trainer A soldier trains in mine clearance in the field phase during Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training - army crawls on the forest floor Asoldier practices using the 40mm grenade launcher during dry drills with other platoon members

Left: Private Philo receives shooting training. Centre: Private Philo trains in mine clearance in the field phase during Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training. Right: Private Philo practices using the 40mm grenade launcher.

After recruit training, Private Philo had a slight reprieve until early January when he began his Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training (RICT).

Every January, RICT is completed at Waiouru Military Camp where soldiers learn the basics, enabling them to become skilled members within a section.

The training is a mix of theory- and practical- based learning, with the first half of training focused on learning in a controlled environment. Trainees are expected to step up the following week to the more challenging field environment in the Waiouru Military Training Area.

Private Philo is now posted to East Coast Company, 5th/7th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, the same company he supplied venison to.

Private Philo said anyone wanting to join the Army should take one step at a time and focus on one task until it’s complete.

“The military ethos is to never give up. Give it heaps.”

Any Defence Recruiting enquiries can be directed to 0800 1 FORCE. Each Reserve Force company has its own training programme in line with its battalion’s training focus.

Platoon-level training takes place one night a week and company-level training typically one weekend a month.