TIMARU, New Zealand --
Sgt. Greg Wubben, a civil affairs non-commissioned officer with 1st Civil Affairs Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, from Ridgefield, Wash., landed in New Zealand for the second time in less than two years, this time to participate in exercise Southern Katipo 2013.
In June 2012, Wubben participated as a heavy equipment operator in the 70th anniversary celebration of the 1st Marine Division landing in New Zealand during World War II.
“We went to the parliament, we did a lot of parades with them and then we did a 10-day field operation where we rebuilt a few roads and a few huts for their training areas,” Wubben said. “We got to mix in with a lot of their trades like their plumbers, electricians and engineers. We got to work together and share expertise on both sides. It was a pretty incredible experience.”
Wubben’s unit was presented the opportunity to participate in the anniversary in New Zealand because the combat engineers were deployed at the time when he was part of the 11th Marine Regiment.
“I thought it was a once in a million opportunity,” he said. “I never thought I’d be back. I was lucky I got to go the first time and then I even switched units, so the fact I’m able to be here a second time is surreal.”
Shortly after returning to the U.S., Wubben was reassigned to the 1st Civil Affairs Group. 1st CAG recently became part of I MEF, which was slated for SK13 earlier in 2013.
Throughout the exercise, 1st CAG’s mission is to be a liaison between the civilian population and the military in order to identify needs of the public and methods of providing it through the military.
SK13 is Wubben’s first exercise with 1st CAG, but with very familiar circumstances. He rode a bus through the same gate into Linton Military Camp last June and even stayed in the same barracks during his stay for SK13.
“I’ve actually seen four Kiwis I recognize from last time,” he said. “They actually recognized me and came up and struck up a conversation. I had lunch with one of them while I was at Linton Military Camp.”
Shortly after arriving in Linton Military Camp, the Marines participating in SK13 moved to Timaru, in the South Island of New Zealand, where New Zealand’s largest amphibious exercise began alongside nine other nations.
“Last time, I was here for a celebration,” Wubben said. “This time is a lot more serious — a multinational exercise — but as soon as we set up our camp in Timaru, the easy friendship and Kiwi culture continued as it did last time.”
Wubben was able to return the hospitality with 1st CAG when his team recently met with a high school to initiate plans of building them an obstacle course.
Pvt. Kereti Edwards, signaler with 2 Signal Squadron, from Tauranga, New Zealand and Lance Cpl. Roxane Hutana, detachment commander with 2 Signal Squadron, from Napier, New Zealand, met Wubben while setting up camp in Timaru.
“Some Marines are really reserved and keep to themselves, but a lot of them, like Wubben, came to learn about different armies and different cultures,” Edwards said.
The group began their lunch break playing a guitar the Kiwis brought meanwhile discussing differences in American and New Zealand culture.
“Eddie, Roxane and I talked about how long we had all been in the military and the differences in our rank structure,” Wubben said. “It’s pretty funny to explain how we are and them explaining how they are.”
Edwards said he joined to get deployed and takes a keen interest in Marines.
“I want to stay in, but I’d like to join another military,” Edwards said. “I like the Kiwi army, but I think I’d have more opportunities if I joined the Marines. It’s the experience I want. Sgt. Wubben told me what to expect in Afghanistan and what it was about. It seemed like it opened up his eyes a bit.”
Hutana first joined in 2001 and got out in 2008. “I went to Afghanistan and after, I just wanted to be a mom,” she said. “I worked as a patrol sig, getting communication on the patrols. It was a huge eye opener to the military itself and how lucky we actually are.” Hutana rejoined the New Zealand Defence Force in 2009 and plans to continue serving.
Even after being deployed to Afghanistan, Hutana had never worked alongside Marines. “It’s my first time working with Marines and an amazing experience at that,” she said. “Just such a lovely bunch of young chaps, really.”
Hutana helped Wubben cook his field rations provided by the Kiwis and taught him tricks she’s learned in the field to make the meals more enjoyable.
“The way Marines eat in the field is 10 minutes or less,” Wubben said. “They [Kiwis] have ‘rat packs’ [operational ration packs] and they take the time to sit down, make a fire and cook their food. You get to talk and joke around and take a little break. It’s definitely a more relaxed and comfortable feeling.”
After lunch, Edwards wanted to show the Marines a classic part of New Zealand culture: rugby. With no ball on hand, Edwards quickly grabbed a towel, grass, plastic bags and tape and created a field-made rugby ball.
“We like teaching Americans our culture,” Edwards said. “If I went to America, I’d expect them to show me a football game or something they like to do.”
Wubben had never thrown a rugby ball before coming to New Zealand, but quickly learned how to play ‘one-touch’ with the Kiwis.
“At first I was laughing at their field-made rugby ball until I realized how heavy it was when they threw it at me,” Wubben said. “It was pretty interesting having them teach me how to throw a rugby ball, because we don’t really play it that much in America. It was pretty fun them taking the time to show me how to play their major sport.”
Wubben said New Zealand is one of the most scenic destinations in the world and hopes Hutana and Edwards stay true to their plans of visiting America.
“I tell my wife, Megan, when I’m around them I have a smile on my face the whole time,” Wubben said.
After Wubben’s civil affairs duty is fulfilled, he will have the choice to be a recruiter for the Marine Corps or decide to continue his passion as a heavy equipment operator as a civilian alongside his two older brothers who served also served in the Marine Corps.