Strict, disciplined and staunch are three words that immediately spring to mind to describe the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

Supportive, comradeship and courage are others – experienced by five heroes who won a day with the NZDF as part of the 2015 Pink Shirt Day (PSD) anti-bullying competition.

Lieutenant Commander Eric Chapman says bullying of any kind has no place in the NZDF. “Bullying goes against our core values and being part of PSD is a very public way to show that we do not condone it.”

The first hero

The NZDF’s partnership with PSD began in 2014 when the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) invited them to support the campaign.

“It started with a video filmed on board the navy’s multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury,” the MHF’s Sophia Graham says. “I brought a friend’s son with me as he’d been having a rough time at school, and his mum and I thought it would do him good to see how many people did care about bullying.

“When the navy heard he was coming, they gave him a tour, presented him with a medal and pulled him up on stage to commend him for his bravery.

“He kept saying [over and over] that it was the best day of his life, and his happy little face really stayed with me.”

In 2015, Sophia asked the NZDF whether they would be willing to extend the “hero” experience to other young Kiwis as part of a competition. Their response was a whole-hearted “yes”!

Five young Kiwi leaders

Anti-bullying stories flooded in and were whittled down to five official heroes: Ruben Krueger, Madeline Arps, Esther Chiang, Tekau Solomona and Chance Whittaker-Ngaropo.

“The students were absolutely amazing,” Eric says. “They were so super-excited to spend the day with us that the two Auckland heroes were more than half an hour early at the start of the day.”

The group took part in a parade, learnt to fight fires and natural disasters like floods, and toured the Whenuapai air base and the naval base in Devonport.

Added surprises included sitting in the captain’s chair of the HMNZS Canterbury and riding in one of the navy’s rigid hull inflatable boats.

“The team from the NZDF enjoy being part of such a worthy cause and it was hugely gratifying to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment the heroes took from their experience,” Eric says. “They loved every moment, especially getting soaked by some of the wake! It was also a great way to show to our people that bullying is simply not acceptable.”

Read about Pink Shirt Day