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Marlborough fisherman dives into latest challenge with Army Reserves

You’ll rarely find Private Jacob Radon too far from the water’s edge.

06 March, 2024

His family runs an aquaculture farm in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, growing blue pearls in paua shells. 

As a third-generation abalone diver he’s passionate about the ocean and sustainable fishing and serves on the PAUA3 executive board liaising between industry and central government. 

But it’s on dry land where Private Radon’s taken on his latest challenge with the New Zealand Army Reserve Force, having signed up just over three years ago.

This past weekend, he joined with reservists from around the South Island as he ventured to Waimate to take part in the Eric Batchelor Cup sports tournament, alongside members of 2nd/4th Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/4 RNZIR). 

Private Radon says it was “quite symbolic to hold the competition in Waimate”, the hometown of the tournament’s namesake and local war hero.

Batchelor received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar for his efforts and bravery in Italy during the Second World War. He died in 2010.

“There was a great response from the township who turned out to support us, including the Mayor who officiated the competition finale, the tug of war,” he said.

It’s a far cry from his life growing up in the Sounds where he and his siblings were home-schooled by their mother through Te Kura Correspondence School. The chance to participate in team sports didn’t come up too often.

“It was a bit confusing at first but my team was supportive, and it’s always good to challenge yourself with something new,” Private Radon said.

“The weekend was fun with lots of friendly competition from all the teams, including the local teams from Waimate High School, the Rugby Club and Cadet Forces.” 

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Left photo: Reserve Force soldier Private Jacob Radon competes at the Eric Batchelor Cup sports tournament in Waimate (right in photo), Middle and right photo: Private Jacob Radon in the field.

Private Radon remembers listening to his father share stories of people he knew in the armed forces, but he’s the first member of his family to serve.

“You’re part of something bigger and grander, and it will challenge you in ways you’d not expect, but you’ll grow as a person from all of it,” he said. 

“I knew I wanted to be challenged, and wanted to be able to serve others within the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), but my family’s business is very important to me,” he said. 

“The reserves offered the best way for me to accomplish all those requirements.”

Private Radon said some of his highlights with the Army Reserves so far have included flying on an NH90 in a joint exercise with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and being deployed as part of Exercise Bardia in Australia last year.

“I was part of a platoon of Army Reservists who were selected to train with the Australian Reservists, riding in their Bushmaster armoured personnel carriers, conducting clearance patrols for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and assaulting in urban terrain.

“It was about a month-long exercise with nine days in the field, and it was a great learning experience to train alongside our Aussie counterparts.”

Working for the family business, Private Radon said he’s lucky to have a very supportive environment where he’s able to balance time away with his unit with his work on the farm.

“We can be swamped in the summer with tourism, which means at the start of the year I have to pick and choose what I can do. But I prioritise showing up to everything I can.”

But arguably one of his biggest challenges is just linking up with his unit in the first place.

“I’ve adapted to the challenge of taking an hour-long boat ride to the local marina, then driving to Nelson usually takes 90 minutes to two hours. 

“There are a few regular routes for water taxis and mail boats that take me near my home, which I can ride along to Picton to save on fuel costs.

“We also usually work out a system where I can run some errands for the family business on the way to linking up with my unit. It makes the trips in for training more worthwhile by doing multiple things along the way.”

Private Radon says he’s continually challenged with the Army Reserves and encourages anyone considering a career with the Reserve Force to give it a crack. 

“It is an environment that has made me more adaptable, responsible and disciplined in my civilian life outside the Army Reserves.

“Joining the Army Reserves is a fantastic way to serve in the NZDF with plenty of flexibility too. Everyone involved understands we all have work commitments, studies, families and friends. 

“Everyone there is just as motivated as you to get the job done, train hard and learn.”

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.