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NZDF pleased with pitching in as Northern Territory military exercises closes

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has come away from participating in one of Australia’s largest military exercises confident it can contribute meaningfully to multinational security and peacekeeping efforts.

08 September, 2022

Exercise Pitch Black, run by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), is a biennial three-week exercise in the Northern Territory. This year was the largest version yet, with 17 nations, more than 100 aircraft and around 2500 personnel involved. 

Sixty NZDF personnel took part, primarily carrying out supporting roles which allow the aircraft to take to the skies and keep flying. 

They included defence public affairs, military police, chefs, air movements, security forces, communication and information system technicians, medics, ground support equipment, technicians, aviation refuellers, intelligence specialists, logistics officers and firefighters and military working dogs. 

NZ Army chefs have been helping feed up to 500 aircrew at a sitting – numbers they don’t normally get at home. 

Pitch Black has been a hit with locals, with nearly 25,000 attending an open day at RAAF Base Darwin midway through the exercise.

NZDF detachment commander, Flight Lieutenant Shirley Barakuta, said the great thing about Exercise Pitch Black was that NZDF personnel were performing their jobs just the same as they would on operations.

“Our security forces have been patrolling the airfield and ensuring the security of the aircraft and people, our Aviation Fuel Specialists have been fuelling aircraft and monitoring fuel quality, our Air Load team have been loading aircraft, and our Caterers have been preparing and serving meals.” 

Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel working with Royal Australian Air Force personnel during Exercise Pitch Black 22

Exercises such as Pitch Black provides a unique opportunity for NZDF personnel to practise their roles in an overseas environment in collaboration with other militaries, she said. 

“This ensures that our people are combat capable, trained, equipped and ready to contribute to international peace and security. 

“We have shown that we can work well with RAAF units at the bases in Darwin and Tindal. This has fostered multinational cooperation and trust, enhancing interoperability with a range of other nations.”

Leading Aircraftman Katrina James, an Aviation Fuel Specialist, said it had been a “blast” working with the likes of the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, which are among the most advanced aircraft in the world.

The sheer scale of the exercise and the organisation, along with so many friendly forces from different countries, was amazing, she said.

“It’s been an adventure, and I feel blessed to have been a part of it. It’s been an amazing experience working with other nations and the gratitude that they’ve shown towards us. They’ve been pretty impressed with our work ethic and attitude to the job.”