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Gulf War a life-changing experience for Army Major

Major Ken Coombes

Current role: Trainer at Training and Doctrine Command

Length of service: 36 years

15 January, 2021

Major Ken Coombes was 32 when he deployed to the Gulf as the Admin NCO and it was the first of three Middle East missions during his NZ Army service.

“The 1991 deployment was the first operation I had been on and I felt a lot of pride deploying to an active service mission. Overall it was a fantastic experience, which was at times daunting when considering the location, environment, threat, regular Scud missile attacks and the tasks at hand,” Major Coombes said. 

Major Coombes’ role involved working closely with United States Navy personnel who were assisting the Construction Battalion in building the 6th Fleet 500-bed tented hospital prior to the US medical teams arriving.

“I had to learn how the US Navy managed their administrative and payroll systems.  There were a few challenges in the role such as the relationship with the local Bank Manager in the Awali branch of the Bank of Bahrain and working through the language barrier and a significantly different banking system to how we did it in New Zealand,” he said.

“The limited communication back to New Zealand for business and the technology available to do our work made things hard at times.

“But the most difficult part of the operation was separation from close family and friends for what was initially an undetermined length of time and communications were unreliable and very limited.”

Major Coombes said the deployment had a significant impact on his life. It prompted an interest in learning how other allied nations work within the same field as well as a desire to travel and explore the world with his wife and to seek out new places and experiences. 

“Perhaps one of the other areas that this deployment shaped my future was the exposure to what the medical team was doing.

“They were a very professional and capable group who made a significant and positive impact for many casualties and patients during the time the 6th Fleet Hospital was open (4500 patients in 45 days). 

“This prompted me to volunteer as an Ambulance Officer with St John – a role I have continued with for nearly 17 years.”