Skip to main content

Tautoko tāngata, tautoko hapori

We stand ready and are here to help.

Our size, skills, equipment and training are geared for combat, but when you’re as large as our New Zealand Defence Force, with a lot of personnel with a diverse range of skills and specialised assets, you end up being very valuable when New Zealand, New Zealanders or our friends need help.

In 2020, a virus shut down the world. On 19 March, New Zealand closed its borders. By 9 April, the Prime Minister announced that a network of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQFs) would be established, to bring citizens and residents home.

early 2020

Around 120 of our Defence Force's planning and logistics staff were attached to the Government’s COVID-19 response teams. 64 campervans were placed at our Defence training facility on Whangaparaoa Peninsula to create New Zealand’s first quarantine facility in modern times. Ranging from children to the elderly, 157 returnees from Wuhan arrive at the facility. 


As the pandemic continued, the New Zealand Government established a Managed Isolation and Quarantine system where several hotels were turned into isolation facilities.

From April 2020, returning New Zealanders were required to isolate in these facilities before entering the community. Our Defence Force was soon tasked with supporting these Managed Isolation and Quarantine Facilities (MIQ), as part of a multi-agency effort led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Around 1,200 of our personnel were rotating through the MIQ facilities at any one time, taking their turn at assisting with daily operations, management, logistics, security, planning and a range of other roles. 

It’s a very busy job, but if you care about people, it’s easy. You need to have empathy and be a personable person.

Chief Petty Officer Greg Bishell, Manager at an MIQF

NZDF involvement at Managed Isolation Facilities

Operation Protect, the name of our Defence Force's contribution, touched at the heart of what we train to do. Our staff were on the front line, helping to protect our country and the well-being of our population, and did it in a professional and caring way that was widely recognised and had a powerful effect on the 230,000 New Zealanders that returned home.

Elsewhere, we supported the New Zealand Police with checkpoint duties around Auckland as the region experienced changes in alert levels, and stood beside NZ Customs to provide an increased maritime border presence at commercial ports.

"When we took a bus ride to a managed exercise area, they kept their distance, but one of the soldiers provided some entertainment for my daughter for half an hour, telling her riddles. Another time, someone did a lot of chalk mind-teasers on the car park tarmac below our window. It’s that kindness and thoughtfulness that makes people’s stay that little bit better."

  • Mike LaFranchie, Taranaki (returning from the US)

When more than 1,000 Ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers are stranded in New Zealand, we answer a call from the Government of Vanuatu and our Royal New Zealand Air Force fly them home. Other flights to the Pacific transport both people and critical suppliers such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

More than 1000 Vanuatu nationals departing Auckland from RNZAF Base Whenuapai on a Boeing aircraft

DURING 2021  

Into the second year of our Defence Force’s response to the pandemic, we provided further assistance to our Pacific neighbours. In June 2021, an NZDF medical officer joins an Australian-led response to a surge in COVID-19 in Fiji.  

The following month, our Navy complete a 5000 nautical mile trip to transport Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to one of the most remote places in the world, with HMNZS Wellington successfully delivering a COVID-19 vaccine consignment to the Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu atolls of Tokelau. 

Transporting the vaccines on behalf of the Ministry of Health, HMNZS Wellington and her 76 crew utilise a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat and Seasprite helicopter to carry out contactless deliveries of the vaccine stock. The efforts also saw vaccine deliveries made to Palmerston Island in the northern Cook Islands to deliver enough doses for the 40-strong eligible population there. 

"With us Pacific Islanders serving in uniform, it means a lot to us... It’s about going back home, giving back to our people, representing the Royal New Zealand Navy, and making our families proud.” 

  • Petty Officer Seamanship Combat Specialist (POSCS) Thomas Katu 

As well as providing support to our Pacific neighbours, and the MIQFs, ten of our NZ Army medical personnel put their training into action at the Sky Stadium drive-through vaccination centre as part of Op Protect. With an aim to vaccinate 1,000 Wellington residents per day, our personnel and staff came together with Capital and Coast District Health Board, Tū Ora Primary Health Organisation, Whitireia Polytech nursing students and Wellington Free Ambulance to help vaccinate Wellingtonians.  

In March 2022 the Government announced that with the re-opening of NZ’s border, the decision was made to reduce the MIQs by June 2022.

DURING 2022  

The Government announced in March 2022 that with the re-opening of New Zealand’s border, the decision was made to reduce the 32 MIQ facilities to four by the end of June 2022. The reduction in facilities meant the MIQ workforce in them would change too, with our NZDF personnel beginning to return to their usual duties.

By 31 March 2022, around 90% of NZDF personnel had returned to their respective camps and bases around the country. A small number of NZDF personnel remained in MIQ national office and regional operations to assist with the transition of roles to MBIE.

MBIE Deputy Secretary and Head of MIQ, Chris Bunny, said the contribution of the NZDF had been instrumental over the past two years.

“The skill, professionalism and mahi of the NZDF contribution has been a defining factor in shaping the success of MIQ."

  • MBIE Deputy Secretary and Head of MIQ, Chris Bunny

“Along the way bonds have been formed, different perspectives shared and a common approach achieved. The involvement of the NZDF has been an intrinsic part of the fabric of MIQ.”

Friday 13 May 2022 marked the official withdrawal of NZDF personnel from MIQ duties as part of Operation Protect. A ceremony was held at Devonport Naval Base which officially concluded our service on Operation Protect and allowed NZDF leaders and personnel to recognise the significant contribution our people made to keep New Zealanders safe during the pandemic.

“We acknowledge the work of a very large number of NZDF staff, who, for over two years have come together to protect New Zealand, and New Zealanders from a global threat not seen since 1918, when NZ last faced a pandemic of this scale” said Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force.

Operation Protect has been one of the single largest commitments of NZDF personnel made to a response in more than 50 years. Around 6,200 of our people were involved, with some on regular rotations throughout the duration of the operation.

Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force thanked all those who spent time deployed on the Operation.

“I want to thank all of you, the various groups who came together to form the platform for the NZDF to provide the planning, organisation, execution skills and processes that kept New Zealand safe for such a long period. Thank you for your efforts, sacrifices and professionalism.”

  • Group Captain Glenn Gowthorpe, Commander Joint Task Force

The commitment to Operation Protect created challenges and opportunities for both the NZDF as an organisation and for our people as individuals.

From leadership development, to working with other agencies, managing risk, developing and delivering in a more empathetic way, and utilising soft skills. The presence, leadership, and mahi of our NZDF people did not go unnoticed and has significantly enhanced the awareness and reputation of the NZDF.

We must too acknowledge the challenges this Operation has presented us, including impacts of career disruptions, BAU training and capability development, and personal or family sacrifices.

As our personnel return to their usual duties at our camps and bases, we have begun regrouping, refreshing our training, and regenerating the capabilities that have been impacted by this enormous commitment.

View our COVID-19 response page for all the latest numbers and information. 

At 12.51pm on 22 February 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch. 185 people died, and thousands were injured in the quake, making it the second worst natural disaster in New Zealand’s history, behind the Napier earthquake of 1931. Buildings collapsed or were severely damaged and critical infrastructure including water, roads, sewerage, power and telecommunications went down. The New Zealand Defence Force responded by undertaking its largest ever humanitarian assistance mission.

At the time of the earthquake, the NZDF were in the South Island preparing for the multinational training exercise Southern Katipo and as a result were able to respond within minutes. Medics helped pull people out of the rubble, soldiers cordoned off the central city, hospitals and rest homes were evacuated, and urban search and rescue began. 

A multi-agency joint headquarters was quickly established bringing together our skills in long-term planning, logistics, and multi-layered coordination to the situation. Responding to the Government’s request for assistance our Air Force, Navy, and Army, including Reserves, rapidly deployed our capabilities on the ground, in the air, and at sea. 

Almost all the roads were covered in water, mud and liquefaction, large holes opened up with trapped cars swallowed inside.

Major Tim Tuatini, Executive Officer 2/1 RNZIR

NZ Army medics provide support at the PGG building in Christchurch after the Earthquake

Our Army quickly deployed two 2/1 RNZIR companies into the city to establish the Red Zone cordon. Joined by several 2nd Canterbury Regiment reserve soldiers they began cordoning and shutting down the central city. The cordon was then supported by other Regular Force, Territorial Force, Navy and Air Force personnel.

A repatriation flight for foreign dignitaries at a conference in Christchurch is our first evacuation flight out of the city. A P-3K2 Orion conducts an immediate aerial survey of the affected areas, to inform Civil Defence emergency planning what was needed in the response.

The C-130H(NZ) Hercules arrives in Christchurch with consignments of supplies and equipment and leaves with passengers. The Boeing 757s and C-130H(NZ) Hercules then run continuous return flights as a 24-hour operation bringing in supplies and evacuating people from the city.

HMNZS Canterbury was in Lyttleton Port preparing for Exercise Southern Katipo and loaded with vehicles, supplies and personnel needed to respond to a humanitarian and disaster event. 160 personnel were immediately offloaded to provide meals to the community, security patrols for businesses, and a command-and-control hub.

Further out, HMNZS Resolution completes a survey of the main shipping route into Lyttleton. Once the port is opened, HMNZS Canterbury begins transporting consignments of essential goods from Wellington to Lyttleton, returning with supplies, excavators, trucks, and trailers.

I vividly recall seeing the city and how it resembled a warzone. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we saw.

Nathan McMaster Aircraft captain on Search and Rescue 228

The NZ Defence Force helps out after the 22nd February Chrischurch Earthquake. Members of the NZ and China Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR) work on the CTV site.

NZ Army medical teams from Burnham Military Camp are dispatched to four different locations around Christchurch. Soldiers go from house to house, checking on residents. Catering teams and engineers started providing meals, freshwater facilities, shelter, and sanitation to whomever is in need, from the rescue workers in Christchurch to the citizens of Canterbury. Burnham Military Camp suffered little damage and becomes a temporary morgue and base that allows police and coroners to do their work.

Our Army provide a significant visual presence around the central city Red-Zone with 77 Unimog’s transporting equipment and stores, and 47 Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicles constantly on the move in the broken city. 28 Light Armoured Vehicles also work in the area. More than 300 service personnel staff the cordon around the worst affected area of Christchurch’s CBD operating three eight-hour shifts per day. Our Army patrol the cordon using night vision goggles to prevent looting. 129 Singaporean Armed Forces personnel, who are there for Exercise Southern Katipo, also work alongside us. 

We are good at responding quickly in planning and are also highly disciplined and will stand on a cordon for eight hours in all weather or go from house to house checking on how residents are faring.

Chief of Staff Major Mike Duncan 

HMNZS Canterbury is joined by HMNZS Otago and HMNZS Pukaki, and the fleet become a core asset for disaster-relief operations transporting nearly 2000 tonnes of equipment, and 375 personnel in and out of Lyttelton.

In the days after the earthquake Iroquois helicopters survey the damage in and around Christchurch providing transport to inaccessible areas installing seismic sensors and assessing water reservoirs. In all our Air Force move 4278 passengers and huge consignments of equipment to and from the city including the transportation of Urban Search and Rescue staff and St John staff.

Our support ranged from medical, logistical, and planning, to engineering tasks, cordon maintenance, and forensic dentistry.

Air Force, Army and Navy personnel, including Medics, Air Crew, Force Protection and Logistics Specialists, perform an aero-medical evacuation for Christchurch rest home residents affected by the Canterbury Earthquake.

Mobilising a joint operation to this scale requires the enabling of multiple functions within NZDF and is a complex logistical exercise. Behind these people are many more working from camps and bases around the country in a combined Service and civilian effort. Support ranges from medical, logistical, and planning, to engineering tasks, cordon maintenance, and forensic dentistry. Although the cordon is eventually scaled down, NZDF personnel remain for close to two and a half years as the city begins to rebuild.

A key lesson learned from this humanitarian disaster response was the need to have a deployable headquarters that can rapidly get to the disaster zone and coordinate the operation. NZDF subsequently establish a Deployable Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (DJIATF) headquarters commanded by Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand. Today, they are staffed and equipped to go anywhere rapidly at short notice.

Key stats

 1,768 New Zealand Defence Force personnel made up of 239 Navy, 1,379 Army and 150 Air Force regular and reserve personnel were directly involved in the joint force response to Christchurch in 2011.10 RNZAF aircraft, 77 Unimogs, 47 Pinzgauer Light Operational Vehicles, 28 Light Armoured Vehicles, 4 RNZN ships, 129 personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces.


The massive floods that surged through South Westland in 2019 destroyed a vital link for the local populace— the Waiho Bridge.

The bridge was a key piece of infrastructure, being an important link in the South Island, and crucial for businesses in South Westland who needed it to get goods both in and out of the area. Army engineers were called in and helped rebuild the bridge, using a tried and true method, a Bailey bridge, that has been in use since the Second World War.

Lieutenant Colonel Terry McDonald, then the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Engineer Regiment, said 18 personnel from the 2nd Engineer Regiment worked with the New Zealand Transport Agency and engineering and construction company Downer New Zealand to replace the bridge.

It is great to contribute our professional expertise to support government agencies responding to communities that need our assistance.

Lieutenant Colonel Terry McDonald

The Transport Agency’s contracted Bailey bridge installation expert Downer requested the NZDF’s support for the reconstruction of the seven-span Bailey bridge that crosses Waiho River.  

A Bailey bridge is a type of portable, pre-fabricated truss bridge developed by the British for military use during the Second World War.

The new 170-metre Waiho Bridge is one of the longest Bailey bridges Army engineers had been involved in building since the Second World War.

We know how important a link it is in the South Island and for the businesses in South Westland and the Army engineers played a vital part in the restoration of a key piece of infrastructure.

Pete Connors, Transport Agency System Manager 

Transport Agency System Manager Pete Connors said getting the NZDF’s help to assemble the spans on the bridge ensured it was able to be launched from the south side of the Waiho River quickly.

Westland authorities said the Waiho Bridge provided vital access to the region and its loss had adversely affected tourism on the West Coast and in South Westland.

The New Zealand Defence Force teams up with District Health Boards to provide essential dental care to adults with significant oral health needs, in parts of New Zealand where affordability for dental treatment is challenging.

The NZDF has run outreach programmes for a number of years in the Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Northland, Vanuatu and Samoa. The free service, run as a training exercise known as Exercise Wisdom Tooth, is aimed at those who hold a community service card. Treatment includes a clean and scale, fillings, x-rays and extractions.

New Zealand Army dentist asks students a question during a class on Healthy lifestyles. Army dentists provide a free service to patients from the Tuhoe tribe in the town of Taneatua, near Whakatane.

Army dentists provide a free service to patients from the Tuhoe tribe in the town of Taneatua, near Whakatane.

The team also run sessions at local schools to help highlight the importance of good oral health and healthy lifestyle choices, and provide defence career information.


teeth extracted in only five days

In 2019, a combined team of military and civilian dentists operated from the Cook Islands Community Centre in Flaxmere to provide oral health care information and dental care and treatment. The NZDF contingents are a mix of Regular Force personnel and Reservists and includes dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, medics, career advisors and physical training instructors.

When the call comes in to help find a missing person or group, the New Zealand Defence Force has aircraft on standby 24/7, 365 days of the year to respond immediately, and Navy ships on notice to deploy within hours. Whether it is a lost tramper or a vessel in trouble on the ocean, our personnel have the equipment and skills for the job.

The National Contingency is an agreement with the Government to always have personnel, ships and aircraft ready to deploy after a request from the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre.

Our P-3K2 Orion and C-130 Hercules aircraft can fly over vast areas of ocean to get to vessels in trouble or look for lost ships and boats. They are equipped to deploy survival equipment including a life raft, a communication device, water and food.

No. 30 Squadron crew and an NH90 Helicopter assists NZ Police and LandSAR with a search and rescue operation to find two missing trampers in the Kahurangi National Park.

A search and rescue (SAR) team member winch from an NH90 helicopter during an exercise with No. 3 Squadron, NZ Police and NZ Land SAR at Turangi airfield.

C-130H(NZ) Hercules Loadmasters conduct air drops as they fly over the drop zone for a search and rescue exercise.


Our NH90 helicopters are often called on to help for missing trampers in New Zealand’s lush and dense bush, on snow-capped mountains, from flooded waters or from rocky cliff sides. The helicopters’ primary role is to fly search and rescue teams in and out of the search areas. The combination of payload and fuel endurance gives the search and rescue controller the ability to move or rotate their teams at a high pace.

In coastal waters, particularly in the vicinity of Devonport Naval Base, Royal New Zealand Navy vessels can be tasked to assist with MayDay calls from yachts or vessels in distress. Navy vessels can back up the Air Force, once a vessel in distress is located.

Considering a career supporting communities?

A career in the Defence Force is unlike anything out there. You’ll work as part of a tight-knit team, protecting your family, friends, and community from harm and representing the New Zealand way of life wherever you go. It’s an incredibly rewarding job that gives you a real sense of purpose.

Find out more