Regional | Ruatorea / Ruatoria

East Coast Service Academy students to march with veterans

Students march to their capping ceremony at the Ruatōria RSA. Photo / Eruera Walker Media

A new rank of rangatahi are marching their way to bright futures by honouring the legacy and mana of their tīpuna.

The East Coast Service Academy in Ruatōria was launched in only February, and the programme is proving to be a great success for the 100 attendees, who were inducted with a capping ceremony for new students at the Ruatōria RSA.

“They absolutely loved it,” says Wayne Palmer, who leads the academy alongside Hemi Flavell.

The programme has senior students from Ngata Memorial College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiū o Ngāti Porou, and is open to students throughout the district.

Students marching to the Ruatōria RSA for their capping ceremony. Photo / Eruera Walker Media

One of those students is Ngata Memorial College head girl Brianna Te Rauna.

“I thought joining the service academy would give me an insight to that future pathway,” she says of joining the New Zealand Defence Force.

Despite nerves, Te Rauna was all smiles as she marched before friends and whānau at their capping ceremony. She aspires to be a mechanic in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

“I felt proud of our learnings and working together — marching down as one, receiving our caps as one.”

She said they had learned a range of practical skills, from marching to tying knots to critical teamwork and identifying camouflage in the bush.

This is a new experience for many, including Te Rauna, who is in her final year of school.

“It had its challenges, but I feel like we learned quickly despite it all being new to us and never having worked together before”.

Although this is a military service academy, Palmer says recruitment is not its only objective.

“Our outcome is for students to stay engaged in their learning. It’s not a recruitment thing for the services, although it prepares them,” Palmer says.

“If [they] decide to launch into the services, at least they’ve got a good foundation for that”.

The activities do not deter these Year 12 and 13 students from their studies.

Cadets are allocated three hours a day for the service academy, with the two remaining hours focused on other core subjects.

“As well as having the service academy stuff, we have built a programme so that they can achieve university interests,” Palmer says.

Brianna Te Rauna (left) and her peers sporting their new uniforms with pride. Photo / Eruera Walker Media

Much like the iconic Ngāti Porou East Coast rugby jerseys, the students also don a sky-blue shirt as part of their uniform — decorated with school emblems, poppies, a State Highway 35 symbol and a picture of a lone soldier, encapsulating the values of the academy.

Palmer, who served in the NZ Army for 25 years, says recruitment standards haven’t changed.

“I think our rangatahi actually like boundaries. [Having] tighter boundaries and values wrapped around them at school is definitely a benefit for them,

“And then putting [that] ethos into practice when they go [on] their Army courses”.

This year’s Anzac Day service in Ruatōria will have a special addition to the programme — a march down the main street to the RSA.

The service academy will be joined by veterans, service people, local tamariki and community members — a first for the humble but staunch East Coast township.

Te Rauna will speak at tomorrow’s service and now has a deeper appreciation of the sacrifice of our servicemen and servicewomen.

“I really thought [the] service [academy] would be easy, [that] the only hard bit would be physical fitness of it, but it’s really mentally tough too”.

Tauira stand at attention at the launch of the East Coast Service Academy. Photo / Eruera Walker Media

Palmer believes there is a growing interest among youth about Anzac Day.

“I think for us on the [East] Coast, we’ve had a big footprint in the services, you know, still, now and in the past”.

He also emphasises the importance of keeping the legacy of the fallen soldiers and veterans alive.

“We’re getting down to the last of the Vietnam [veterans]. There’s no more World War II and Malaya, Korea, all of those sorts of conflicts. The more rangatahi we have involved, the better,” she says.

Te Rauna is proud of the progress her peers have made over the past two months, listing discipline as one of their biggest challenges.

“Because as you know, East Coast children — we’re all strong-headed. We’ve learned how to work as one, hear everyone’s opinion and find a solution.”

She admits the most rewarding part of this experience is making her whānau proud.

“You could see [how] proud they were in their eyes for each and every single one of us.

The inaugural intake of the East Coast Service Academy will graduate in December.

- NZ Herald