The chance to gain life experience while learning as much as possible were big drawcards for Cook Islander Lance Corporal (LCPL) Thomas Harrison when he was considering joining the New Zealand Army.

LCPL Harrison grew up in Amuri on Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands, before moving to New Zealand in late 2013 on a rugby scholarship with Rangiora High School. He enlisted into the Army in February 2015 and is based at 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment at Burnham Military Camp.

He had dreamed of joining the Police but found he couldn’t without a New Zealand driver’s licence; that led to the discovery that not only could he get his licence but he could also learn a trade and study if he joined the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

LCPL Harrison got his New Zealand driver’s licence while on recruit training and he now has eight classes or endorsements, which means he can now drive light through to heavy vehicles. He has also completed a number of other courses.

“Joining the NZDF was a massive eye opener. Without sounding too clichéd, I have met people from all walks of life, and I have personally liked learning new things from people who were somewhat overlooked or not taught back home,” LCPL Harrison said.

The NZDF had created an atmosphere of endless learning, whether that be work related or otherwise. He had deployed to Iraq and been involved in exercises and responses including the Kaikoura earthquakes and the Port Hills fires.

“A highlight for me has been being able to gain life experience, as there is always something you can learn from someone else. It can be trade or work specific, in the field, with weapons, or just plain life knowledge that you don’t get taught at school – such as taxes, insurance and mortgages.”

LCPL Harrison said he would encourage his fellow Cook Islanders to join the NZDF.

“Once you finish basic training you’ll be rewarded with many benefits. For me initially, the perks of getting paid to get fit, study and work seemed all too good to be true.

“You will be well looked after; the NZDF has its own doctors, medics, dentists, chaplains, social workers and psychologists, which are all available to you as a service person,” he said.

“While there will be challenges along the way, like any job, you will be well catered for as long as you can maintain the high standards expected.”

Kia pu kuru o vaevae. Kia mokora o kaki - Stand strong with your head held high.

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