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Moved from Fiji because of political situation

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, August 30, 2009) - The cohesiveness of New Zealand’s defense force has been put to the test in Samoa in a massive tri-service exercise the scale of which has not been seen since Timor Leste a decade ago.

Two hundred defense force personnel have descended on Samoa after being forced to abandon Fiji, the usual location for tropical exercises, because of its political situation.

Army, Navy and Air Force personnel are combining to create what they call "one purple service" to improve their ability to work together.

The exercise builds on New Zealand’s capability to defend a friend or help a neighbor struck by disaster.

"To be able to push offshore from New Zealand to an area that we have key interests in, that’s a huge capability, and it’s a capability that is really starting to come to the forefront for us now as a New Zealand Defence Force," says Wing Commander Karl Harvey.

And local law enforcement officials are taking full advantage of the exercise. There are no helicopters based in the area and practicing winching from the police launch is normally impossible.

"They recognise that if there was a natural disaster, another cyclone or a tsunami or something of that nature, that the New Zealand Defence Force would be among the first to come in and help," says New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Samoa, Caroline Bilkey.

Search and rescue abilities were quickly called upon when a tourist was stranded on a remote part of the rocky coastline.

"We were just fortunate enough to be flying up the coast and looked out and here was a white body against a black cliff waving furiously," says RNZAF pilot, Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro.

The challenging Samoan terrain is what it is all about for 90 officer cadets in the region to practice combat in a foreign land.

With the thinner air, helicopters lose about 10 percent of their power and to compensate for that they carry less fuel. As a result unloading troops has to be done fast.

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