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Nelson-based outdoor instructor and former filmmaker tackles new challenge with Army Reserves

A strong passion for the outdoors has led Private James Gallant on a wild ride at times.

23 February, 2024

From filming National Geographic documentaries in the Falkland Islands to instructing people how to survive in the great outdoors, and now a combat-ready role with the New Zealand Army Reserve Force.

“I wanted to join the Army as there was something new and challenging about it, and I enjoy being part of a community,” Private Gallant said.

The 34-year old, originally from Cape Cod, USA, settled in New Zealand 10 years ago and works as a qualified outdoors instructor with Outward Bound.

Based in Nelson, he recently graduated from the NZ Army Recruit Territorial Force Basic Training Course, followed by the Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training.

But after years of enabling others to push themselves beyond what they thought possible, Private Gallant was reminded what it’s like to be in the position of learning something new again.

“I’m used to being the facilitator, so I’ve had to relinquish that responsibility which can be a challenge in itself,” he said with a grin. 

“It’s given me a better understanding of the frustrations and challenges of being new at something, and has actually given me quite a bit of empathy towards my students.”

Private Gallant said his passion for the outdoors stemmed from a childhood growing up in Cape Cod.

“My Dad was a rock-climber and a hunter so I was exposed to the outdoors at an early age. I loved going out with him.

Being in the outdoors is definitely my happy place.

After leaving school he studied film and later landed a job as a documentary filmmaker for both film and television over a 13-year period.

“I was working in the sub-Antarctic Falkland Islands for National Geographic filming a story on the people who call the Islands home when I met my wife. She got offered a job in New Zealand 10 years ago and we’ve never looked back.

“I loved my job with National Geographic and the film and TV industry, but I was always envious of the types of people I was filming so I retrained in the outdoor education industry.”

Private Gallant is qualified in bush navigation, sailing, white water kayaking, rock climbing, coast-steering, waka ama and professional development training, but he wanted to test his limits again with something new.

Learning to live in shared accommodation within a diverse age group and to accept that sometimes, however well you perform, it’s just not going to be up to standard, has been his personal challenge.

“It’s all good for personal growth though, and that’s a lot of what the training is focused around,” he said.

Private Gallant practices his shooting as part of the Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training

Private Gallant practices his shooting as part of the Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training

Private Gallant learns navigation skills prior to an exercise in the Waiouru Military Training Area

Private Gallant learns navigation skills prior to an exercise in the Waiouru Military Training Area

Corps training is held every January for nearly three weeks. Trainees are pushed out of their comfort zones both mentally and physically, and learn various weapon systems, battle preparation, patrolling techniques, harbouring routines and battle drills which culminate in live field-firing activities at Waiouru Military Training Area.

Training builds from theory and classroom work to a week-long field phase where the training is put into action. Battling the tough Central Plateau elements is often an added challenge.

“Lying in our fighting positions in the middle of a storm in Waiouru was an experience I will never forget,” Private Gallant said.

My battle buddy and I just burst out laughing as the rain came down heavier and the lightning started, it was all we could do in that moment.

Private Gallant received the Sergeant Major of the Army Award during recruit training. The Award is presented to the recruit who has consistently demonstrated and applied the NZ Army ethos and values, and is willing to put their mates before themselves.

Alongside his day job and Reserve Force duties, Private Gallant somehow finds the time to give back to his community and is currently training to be a first responder for Hato Hone St John in Blenheim.

“I’ve trained as an ambulance officer and work in a volunteer capacity responding to a variety of situations such as strokes and heart attacks, vehicle accidents and general health enquiries.”

As a first responder he will be qualified to assess patients and manage immediately life-threatening emergencies.

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.

Company level training typically occurs one weekend a month with platoon level training held one night a week.