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Tairāwhiti Reserve Force soldier gets early taste of helping his community

Private Owen Rayner (pictured left) joined our New Zealand Army Reserve Force last year hoping to serve his country.

16 March, 2023

He didn’t have to wait long as last month Cyclone Gabrielle pounded much of the North Island, including his home region of Tairāwhiti.

He was attending the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment live field firing activity at Waiouru when news came through to Battalion Headquarters as a Civil Defence Emergency had been declared.

The decision was made that the soldiers and officers were to return home.

In treacherous conditions many roads were inaccessible so Private Rayner, along with other soldiers from East and West Coast Company, were deployed to Napier to help with initial response efforts.

“We were tasked with missions ranging from civilian evacuations to resupply of isolated communities and search and rescue efforts,” he said

By Friday, Private Rayner had received no communication from his mother or friends in Tairāwhiti, but was lucky enough to receive word from workmates at Gisborne District Council.

I was a little worried about Mum but I knew she was prepared. I just want to get up and help those cut off communities.

Later on that Friday, an NH90 helicopter dropped Private Rayner and others in Gisborne so they could begin helping with the clean-up and other tasks.  

“I didn’t hear from Mum until the Sunday.  She said they had no power or connectivity at home, and would travel to nearby Te Puia Springs to resupply.  They were okay though.”

Private Rayner’s parents were influential in his decision to join the Reserve Forces.

His mother was also a medic in our Reserve Force and his father told him numerous stories about his time in our NZ Army.

“My whole life I’ve been wanting to be in the military. I grew up in Wigram close to Burnham Military Camp and seeing Dad’s equipment, his models, and history books definitely made me want to join,” he said.

Private Rayner, 26, is part of the Gisborne District Council Liveable Spaces Team, focusing on all things within the public parks and reserves space.  

He was grateful his employers supported his Reserve Force training and since the Covid-19 pandemic started he’s been part of the local Civil Defence Emergency Management Team.

He hoped he could combine the military and civilian skills he was learning to better serve both his military and civilian communities.

Joining an elite group of men and women whose sole purpose is to put their life on the line, it takes a special sort of person to do that.


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 occurring once a week.