13 December, 2022
Ukrainian trainees absorbed information like sponges and will be far better soldiers when they return to defend their homeland, says one of the New Zealand Army officers tasked with teaching them battlefield skills.
Captain Jordan Corke, from Hawke’s Bay, was one of 120 NZ Army personnel who spent three months in the United Kingdom as part of an international mission training Ukrainians at British Army Camps so they can return to fight in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Basic training in the NZ Army takes 16 weeks, but the New Zealanders had only five weeks on Salisbury Plain to teach the Ukrainians basic infantry skills, such as shooting marksmanship, working as a team, combat first aid and surviving on the battlefield.
Because of the nature of the conflict, there was limited screening of the trainees, which resulted in a wide range of individuals across society. They were mostly men and ranged in age from 19 through to 65, Captain Corke said.
However, their inexperience didn’t matter as their eagerness to learn outweighed their limited military experience, he said.
“They were extremely attentive. They lapped up all the training delivered by Kiwi Forces. They really tried to make the most of the time they had training. They were highly motivated individuals.”
We were teaching them key basic infantry skills… we weren’t teaching them to be team leaders but effective team members who were disciplined and could complete the basics to a high standard.
“The learning curve is exponential. The difference between when they walked off the bus on Day One versus when they leave in Week Five is massive.”
Five weeks was enough time to turn the Ukrainians into competent soldiers, he said.
“You had some very capable individuals by the end of it and I would say the majority would take the fight to the opposition.
“I really do think they will perform well. The contrast in training from what the Russians are receiving, from what the international partners are delivering to Ukrainians, is massive.”
Captain Corke said New Zealand and Ukraine’s cultures were similar, which extended to soldiering.
“New Zealanders have a very can-do attitude and the Ukrainians are also like that.”
Captain Corke paid tribute to the Ukrainian interpreters, who worked very hard and did everything they could to enhance every part of training.
“It’s cognitively quite tiring for them. Sometimes they’ll be translating for 12 hours a day so the Kiwi trainers had to be very conscious about managing the interpreters.”
Captain Corke said the deployment was a very satisfying one to be part of as their training was being put into action just weeks after it was delivered, with the Ukrainians returning to the conflict.
“On any deployment you generally have a ‘why?’. And the ‘why’ on this mission I think is very different to any previous New Zealand Defence Force deployment.
“I think I speak on behalf of the NZDF contingent when I say the ‘why’ was very rewarding and made for a humbling experience.”