• Cyclone Gabrielle tips Hawke's Bay sharpshooter into reserve force

Cyclone Gabrielle tips Hawke's Bay sharpshooter into reserve force

A Hawke’s Bay farmer came away with both the Top Shot and Top Recruit awards from his New Zealand Army training course.

As a hunter, Private Ashton Philo normally shoots his targets from about 50 metres, but extending that out to 300m proved no barrier recently.

“Shooting was a challenge and a highlight for me,” the Puketitiri-based soldier said after the course finished in December.”

“I enjoy hunting but it is different shooting with a military weapon system so I needed to adapt, particularly around the distances.  As a hunter I shoot predominantly about 50m whereas we’re shooting 300m on the range.  It’s all about time on tools though, and the instructors give really good guidance.”

“There was a lot to take on throughout the six-week course but we had a really good community of people on our recruit training, if someone fell behind there were always volunteers to help them out.”

The 24-year-old, originally from Auckland, had been considering the NZ Army as a career prospect since high school. But Cyclone Gabrielle last year provided the catalyst as he signed up for a spot on the NZ Army Recruit Territorial Force Basic Training Course.

Philo lives and works on his partner’s family farm where the cyclone knocked out the electricity for 30 days and the Rissington Bridge, their main supply route, was destroyed.

With the family being self-sufficient, they were fairly independent during the initial weeks after the cyclone.

“Soldiers from East Coast Company came out to check on our residents. They liked our sense of humour and we all got along really well.  In fact, I gave some venison to the unit.”

After recruit training, Philo had a slight reprieve until early January when he began his Reserve Force Infantry Corps Training (RICT).

Every January, RICT is completed at Waiouru Military Camp where soldiers learn the basics, enabling them to become skilled members within a section.

The training is a mix of theory- and practical- based learning, with the first half of training focused on learning in a controlled environment. Trainees are expected to step up the following week to the more challenging field environment in the Waiouru Military Training Area.

Philo is now posted to East Coast Company, 5th/7th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, the same company he supplied venison to.

Philo said anyone wanting to join the Army should take one step at a time and focus on one task until it’s complete.

“The military ethos is to never give up. Give it heaps.”

Any Defence Recruiting enquiries can be directed to 0800 1 FORCE. Each Reserve Force company has its own training programme in line with its battalion’s training focus.

Platoon-level training takes place one night a week and company-level training typically one weekend a month.