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3 Squadron Parade and Medal Presentation

3 Squadron Parade and Medal Presentation

I am here to offer the New Zealand Government's appreciation for and congratulations to you all for 3 Squadron's outstanding achievements in East Timor.

As the first independent NZDF Force Element deployed into the Area of Operations, 3 Sqn faced considerable challenges.

3 Sqn arrived in Dili under Interfet in September 1999, setting up camp at Dili airfield amidst the many fires that were still burning in and around the city.

In only two days, the squadron had two aircraft up and flying. Within six days, 3 Sqn had four aircraft conducting operations in East Timor.

The Squadron then progressively moved its camp to Suai between October and December 1999.

And in February 2000, when UNTAET took over from Interfet, the Iroquois flew with United Nations markings for the first time in 3 Squadron's history.

All of you who have returned from Timor can be immensely proud. With approximately 700 Air Force personnel having served as part of 3 Sqn's detachment there-which is equivalent to around a third of the Air Force's total personnel-the entire RNZAF can also be proud of the part they have played in the establishment of the first new independent nation of the 21st Century, the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste.

The accomplishments of 3 Sqn have been truly remarkable.

The Squadron has remained in continuous rotation in Timor for over three years.

The Squadron has flown 7500 hours in East Timor, with no significant accidents.

There have been, however, a few close calls-for example, the cracked rotor blade in August 2001, and the tail rotor gearbox that broke in February of this year. Were it not for the immense level of skill of the personnel involved, both of these incidents could easily have proved fatal.

3 Sqn has been involved in a host of significant events.

For example, the Atambua Rescue on 13 September 2000, where three helicopters, led by Squadron Leader Mark Cook, successfully rescued 42 UN personnel and civilians from West Timor and flew them to safety in Balibo, East Timor.

And of course the many successful aero-medical evacuations that were flown by 3 Sqn, often in demanding, potentially hazardous conditions, to save the lives of New Zealand soldiers, other UN peacekeepers, and civilians alike.

I know that the families, friends, and loved ones of all those whose lives have been saved by your outstanding efforts join with me in thanking you.

The squadron has formed close relationships with Australian Aviation Squadrons 161 and 162, with whom they shared the camp in Suai.

3 Sqn is held in extremely high regard by every user unit in East Timor, including the peacekeeping forces of Australia, Fiji, Canada, Nepal, Singapore and Ireland, as well as many other UN organisations.

3 Sqn's service in Timor has been internationally recognised by many, including becoming the first non-Australian squadron to receive a Commendation from the Chief of the Australian Defence Force.

3 Sqn was also recently awarded the prestigious "Helicopter Squadron of the Year" by the United Kingdom based Defence Helicopter Magazine.

I would also like to acknowledge the superb efforts of RNZAF 40 Sqn, who have supported 3 Sqn and the army throughout the mission in East Timor. Their C130 Hercules flew substantial loads of personnel and equipment into both Dili and Suai, in high temperatures, under demanding conditions, and on extremely short strips.

In addition, I recognise the excellent work of all the personnel who served as part of Headquarters Sector West, Peace Keeping Force Headquarters in Dili, and the support elements in Darwin.

I would like to express the Government's special appreciation for the personal sacrifices made by all the families of those who have served in East Timor.

Having your sons, husbands, wives and daughters, mums and dads away from home, in a dangerous, remote and unpredictable environment, for months at a time, is never an easy thing to cope with. I thank you all.

You can have great pride in the vital role that your loved ones have played in protecting the democratic rights of a people who have suffered so much in their struggle towards nationhood.

3 Sqn was renowned for its 'can-do' attitude. When other helicopter units in Theatre didn't think they could do a job, 3 Sqn stepped up, gave 100%, and got it done.

This kind of attitude was evident throughout the deployment, both in their peacekeeping duties and the improvements made around the camp.

With a healthy dose of good old kiwi ingenuity, 3 Sqn became renowned for "Water-world"-often the only place to have a shower or flush the toilet.

In addition, the squadron built the first NZDF volleyball court in Theatre, a makeshift gym with barbells made out of tent poles and food cans filled with cement, and (of course), the morale raising swimming pool that ANZAC Lines was known for.

You have all served your country with honour and distinction - and every one of you richly deserves the recognition, commendation, and awards that 3 Sqn has received.

The government and the people of New Zealand are immensely pleased, proud and grateful for the work you have all done.

Thank you all.

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