NZSAS Gallantry in Afghanistan recognised
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Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Defence
2 July 2007
NZSAS Gallantry in Afghanistan recognised
Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that she was delighted that the Queen has approved the award of the Victoria Cross to a member of the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) for his actions in saving the life of a comrade under heavy fire from opposing forces.
Three other gallantry decorations are also being awarded to members of the NZSAS. All four decorations have been awarded for actions in Afghanistan in 2004.
"The Victoria Cross for New Zealand is the supreme military award for valour. This is the first Victoria Cross for New Zealand to be awarded since it was instituted in 1999. This decoration continues the tradition of the Victoria Cross previously awarded under a British Royal Warrant to members of the New Zealand military since 1860, the last of which was awarded in 1946," Helen Clark said.
"The Victoria Cross for New Zealand resembles the British Victoria Cross in appearance and manufacture and is equally hard to win.
"Corporal Bill (Willy) Apiata of the NZSAS has been awarded the Victoria Cross for New Zealand for his actions in saving the life of a comrade under heavy fire from opposing forces.
"Briefly, Corporal Apiata carried a severely wounded fellow soldier across open ground while coming under intense attack. He did this despite the extreme danger to himself.
"This brave action saved his comrade's life. Further details of his actions are available in the citation which is in the media statement from the Governor-General.
"Corporal Apiata was born in the Waikato in 1972. He began his army career in 1989 when he joined the Hauraki Regiment of the New Zealand Army as a territorial (part-time) soldier.
"In 2000 he served as a member of the 3rd Battalion Group in East Timor as part of the United Nation's operations there. On his return in April 2001, he became a full time soldier, transferring to the regular force of the New Zealand Army. In November 2001 he passed the gruelling NZSAS selection course and joined the unit the following year.
"Corporal Apiata’s VC is the 14th awarded since the end of World War Two and the first to a serving member of the SAS anywhere in the Commonwealth.
"Corporal Apiata becomes one of only 13 living recipients of the VC. Private Johnson Beharry, a member of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in the British Army, received the VC for gallantry in Iraq in 2004 and is the only other VC recipient still serving in the military.
"Corporal Apiata will be invested with the Victoria Cross for New Zealand by the Governor-General, the Hon Anand Satyanand, at a special ceremony to be held at Government House, Wellington later this month.
"The New Zealand Gallantry Decoration has been awarded to two other members of 1 NZSAS Group, identified only as Captain C and Corporal B. Their awards are for 'an exceptional act of gallantry and leadership under fire' and 'displaying outstanding courage and leadership' respectively.
"The New Zealand Gallantry Medal has been awarded to a member of the unit identified only as Corporal R for 'gallantry and the application of firm and timely leadership'.
"All awards announced today are for gallantry in action in Afghanistan in 2004 and are testimony to the dedication, skill and professionalism of the NZSAS, " Helen Clark said.
Defence Minister Phil Goff said that New Zealanders can be proud of the extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of their duties by members of the NZSAS.
"The VC and the Gallantry Awards bestowed on Corporal Apiata and his three fellow soldiers reflect both the courage and the character of the individuals concerned but also the ethos and the high standards and training of the unit itself.
"The VC honours a man who put his own life at risk to save the life of a comrade. All of the honours reflect exceptional courage and leadership, and the commitment members of the NZSAS have to each other and to the tasks they are sent to do on behalf of New Zealand.
"They are modest about their achievements but they have contributed to an already proud tradition of military service by the NZSAS and a reputation for being ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs", Phil Goff said.