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Return to Fiji a ‘surreal’ experience for NZ Army soldier

After 20 years of soldiering for our New Zealand Army it was a surreal moment for Fiji-born Aseri Balawa to finally go on exercise in the jungle of his home country.

11 August, 2022

Staff Sergeant Balawa, 39, an instructor at the Officer Cadet School (OCS) of New Zealand, recently took part in Exercise Veiliutaki in the Nausori Highlands, which is designed to test cadets in command, leadership and battle craft in a jungle environment alongside soldiers from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF). 

Originally from the village of Naibita, also on the main island of Viti Levu, Staff Sergeant Balawa said it was good to be back in Fiji.

He had many career highlights but integrating with RFMF forces was great, he said.

“When you’re in New Zealand, no one looks like you, but when you’re here, everyone looks like you,” he joked.

Staff Sergeant Balawa moved to New Zealand in 1998 when he was 16 years old. He joined the NZ Army in 2002  because his father told him to.

“One of my cousins was a commanding officer of a battalion in Fiji and he came home and told my dad to make me join the Army.

I was doing an apprenticeship at the time as a joiner, but dad called me into a room and said on Monday I had to go and join the Army.

Staff Sergeant Aseri Balawa, 39, out on exercise in Fiji’s Nausori Highlands with the Officer Cadet School of New Zealand

Staff Sergeant Aseri Balawa

Twenty years later, he’s still serving. 

Staff Sergeant Balawa said he enjoyed working alongside the other instructors as they had fun while also developing the cadets.

“We are looking at how they develop from start to finish and it’s a big change they go through.”

For anyone thinking of joining the Army, he told them to think about what they wanted to achieve while in the service and then make the most of it. 

“Have goals,” he said.

This was his second year working as an instructor at the Officer Cadet School in Waiouru, and he loved it.

“It’s good training the cadets, so once they get their posting you have helped them be the best they can be.”