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New Zealand Defence Force—Death of Lance Corporal Leon Smith in Afghanistan

Wednesday 28 September 2011 Hansard source (external site)

KeyRt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) Link to this

I seek leave to move without notice a motion on the death of a New Zealand SAS soldier in Afghanistan earlier today.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.

KeyRt Hon JOHN KEY Link to this

I move, That this House express its sadness at the death of a New Zealand SAS soldier in Afghanistan. Details of the incident, which occurred only a few hours ago, are not yet available and we are unable to release the soldier’s name at this stage.

The SAS is our premier combat unit. Its soldiers face extremely volatile and dangerous conditions in order to help the people of Afghanistan. But they carry out their duties to the highest standards. They are remarkably brave, resourceful, and resilient, and they are making a valuable contribution in Afghanistan. So the news that one of our soldiers has fallen is devastating for our SAS, for the New Zealand Defence Force, and for all New Zealanders.

I take this opportunity to express my sincere condolences to the family of the soldier and to the wider Defence Force family. The thoughts of the members of this House are with you at this terrible time. This is a sad day for New Zealand. This soldier has paid the highest price for his service to this country and we will mourn his death with a heavy heart.

GoffHon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) Link to this

It is a tragedy that so soon after we paid tribute to the life of Corporal Dougie Grant, killed with the SAS in Kabul last month, we are today remembering the life of another New Zealand soldier with the New Zealand SAS, who was killed this morning. We share in the grief of his family, his friends, and his Defence Force family, and offer them our deepest sympathy and condolences.

He joins a growing list of other New Zealanders who in recent years have been killed in action in deployments by the New Zealand Defence Force: Private Leonard Manning in Timor-Leste, and Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell and Corporal Doug Grant, both killed in Afghanistan. Added to that roll of honour are the other New Zealand citizens who were serving with the Australian, the British, and the American armies who were likewise killed in action.

We are again reminded of the cost of war that was part of everyday life for our parents’ generation. Regrettably, I understand too well the sense of tragedy and grief that his family will be feeling at this time. This is not the time to debate the rights and wrongs of our deployment of the SAS in Afghanistan. Rather, it is time to stand alongside the family of the fallen soldier and offer them our sympathy, our love, and our support.

Like others who have lost their lives, this soldier, whose name we cannot yet disclose, understood the risks and died doing what he believed in. In the House today we pay our respect to him and acknowledge his service and his sacrifice on behalf of his country.

TureiMETIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) Link to this

Yet another life has been lost to this war in Afghanistan. Normally, we would know the name of the young man whose life has been taken. We would know a bit about him and the things he has done—his heroic acts; his involvement in the community—and we would be able to talk about the life that he lived and the contribution that he made. It is unfortunate that today we are not able to do so yet. What we do know about this man is that he had a family, and he had friends and a community who today are in very severe distress at this terrible loss from war, again. The Green Party stands in our very sincerest sympathy with his friends, his family, and his community. We share in their loss. Kia ora.

BoscawenHon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Leader—ACT) Link to this

On behalf of the ACT Party I wish to express our sorrow at the death of the New Zealand SAS soldier in Kabul, Afghanistan. My colleagues and I send our sincere condolences to the soldier’s family, friends, and colleagues, who have lost a warrior in the most tragic of circumstances. Afghanistan seems a world away. It is a country that is seemingly the polar opposite of our small, green land. However, it becomes much closer when one of our own loses their life protecting the peace and freedom of the people of that land—the same peace and freedom that is enjoyed here in New Zealand.

This tragedy is a truly unfortunate reminder that conflict is a daily possibility in this theatre of war. Our soldiers are doing a job that few have the courage to do. They deal with the darkest, most savage, and dangerous elements of the modern world and they do it with professionalism and pride. All New Zealanders will be feeling the loss of this soldier, who volunteered to serve New Zealand and paid the ultimate price in the quest for liberty and freedom. My thoughts and the thoughts of the ACT Party members and supporters are with his family and friends, and the other personnel who were wounded today, who I hope make a speedy recovery.

The effect of this tragedy on the families of all service personnel cannot be underestimated. Waiting at home, they also serve out these missions—their loved ones striving to bring peace and safety to the families of others, whom they never meet. In the face of such tragic circumstances, we as New Zealanders refuse to allow our commitment to what is good and right in the world to waver. It will be stronger today than it was yesterday. All New Zealanders can be proud that this soldier was one of our own. We salute his service and the ultimate sacrifice he made. Thank you.

TuriaHon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) Link to this

E te hōia, hoki atu i te ara wairua, hoki atu ki te wā kāinga. Haere ki te pō, haere ki te pō.

[Oh soldier, return along the spiritual pathway to the true home. Depart to the darkness and to the abode of the dead.]

A former member of this House and a great Ngāti Porou leader, Sir Apirana Ngata, once argued that the cost of casualties incurred as a result of the Māori participation in the First World War was the price of citizenship. Today we reflect on that phrase, as we think of yet another member of the New Zealand Defence Force personnel whose life has been laid down on behalf of us all in what can only be thought of as the ultimate price of citizenship: the loss of human life. The Māori Party joins with other parties to mourn the sacrifice made, with the tragic news of a death in Afghanistan. We acknowledge the courage, the commitment, and the bravery of our SAS force, who enter every day never knowing whether this will be their last. We grieve with those who today, serving alongside, have had one of their own untimely plucked from within their midst—his life another marker of the tragedy that comes with situations of war.

But, most of all, our thoughts are with his family and friends, who are today reeling with the news that sees their worst fears realised. Every life lost through the ultimate call of duty is the promise of leadership unfulfilled. It takes a heavy toll on our national spirit, and it leaves a family bereft. Our aroha is with his w’ānau today. Tēnā koutou.

DunneHon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) Link to this

Many New Zealanders would be surprised to know of the number of places around the world in which New Zealand forces are deployed on a range of missions. For many of them, most of the time, that is almost on a sight unseen basis. They do their job, they carry out their duty, and life carries on—or so it would seem. It is when tragedies such as the death of this soldier in Afghanistan today and the recent incident we commemorated here just a few short weeks ago become apparent that it is brought home to all of us that the military personnel who go overseas on deployments do not just have an extended period of activity offshore and are not just engaged in their professionally trained activities in a different place; they put their lives at risk every day. Although, as I understand it, the circumstances of this event were reasonably routine, the reality in terms of the loss of the life of this young man is anything but routine.

So whatever one’s views about the continued deployment in Afghanistan, this is a wake-up call in terms of the risk that these personnel face day in, day out; of the huge debt of gratitude that our country has to them for their service; and of the tremendous sense of loss right at this moment that the family, friends, and loved ones of the young man will be feeling. The very best that we can do is offer our sympathy and our support to them at this time. I hope that New Zealanders will reflect more frequently on the risks that our personnel face daily, on the challenges that they have to overcome, and, sadly, on the supreme sacrifice that a steadily increasing number are now being required to make on our behalf. May he rest in peace.

Motion agreed to.