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Exercise Pitch Black

The NZDF contingent on Exercise Pitch Black 2010. OH-10-0500-393.

By FLTLT Gabby Knight

In July 2010, 70 NZDF personnel spent the month in the Northern Territory of Australia for Exercise Pitch Black 2010. Led by Expeditionary Support Squadron (ESS), our role was to provide essential ground support services at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal over the exercise period.

Arriving in early July, the weather in the Northern Territory was gorgeous with long sunny days, low humidity and not a speck of rain. We were all pleased to be leaving a wintry New Zealand behind for a month in sunny Darwin.

Our role on the exercise was to provide augmentation to RAAF units over the busy exercise period. New Zealand Defence Force personnel were integrated directly into the Base support units including the security and dog sections, the fuel section, all three messes, the medical centre, the PR team, air movements and the exercise headquarters. Our common training and culture allowed us to easily assimilate to the various work places.

We were well received by the Australians who, without exception, applauded the Kiwis for our professionalism and trade expertise. The sheep jokes were even kept to a minimum, probably helped by the win the All Blacks handed out on the rugby pitch.

AC Daniel Morton, a Air Security dog handler and his dog ‘Dax’. OH-10-0500-342.
AC Morton and Dax

What will we remember? Watching the All Blacks and the Wallabies play on the big screen. The roar of the blacked-out Kiwis in the bar every time we scored a try. The intersection soccer games. The amazing breadth of experience and knowledge of the Army Territorial Force soldiers. The opportunities to work with different aircraft types. Tin City. The crocodiles. The ANZAC spirit being truly alive and well. And the satisfying feeling of participating in what was, without a doubt, a tri-service activity.

What is Exercise Pitch Black?

Exercise Pitch Black is a multi-national large force employment air exercise which includes Australian Defence Force force elements and international participants from New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

In 2010 it was conducted in the top end of Australia over the period 16 July - 06 August. The exercise consisted of both day and night flying and was the largest RAAF flying training exercise for 2010. NZDF participation in Pitch Black 2010 consisted of two detachments: an ESS-led detachment of 70 ground support personnel (including personnel from the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Navy) and a No. 40 Squadron detachment of 21 personnel and a C-130 Hercules.

Who is Expeditionary Support Squadron?

When I tell people I work for Expeditionary Support Squadron (ESS), I get a lot of blank looks. So what does ESS do?

The short answer is that ESS provides support to RNZAF force elements on established bases and at deployed locations within NZ and around the world. When directed, we also act as the mounting unit for RNZAF activities. ESS consists of four individual units – Air CIS, Air Movements, Air Security and Deployable Bulk Fuel. The Squadron also has a small Logistics element which provides logistics support and co-ordination for ESS activities.

So every time you check into a flight at an Air Movements terminal, send a signal, watch your aircraft being refuelled or see the Military Working Dogs patrolling the airfield, know that you’re seeing ESS in action.

Who went?

A total of 91 NZDF personnel from all three services:

  • 2 x Medics
  • 1 x Photographer
  • 8 x Army chefs
  • 4 x RNZN chefs
  • 5 x Air CIS
  • 5 x Air Movements
  • 18 x Air Security
  • 7 x Army Territorial Force soldiers (deployed in a security role)
  • 3 x Air Security Dog Teams (1 x handler and 1 x dog per team)
  • 15 x Aviation Refuellers
  • 1 x AWO
  • 1 x Logistics Officer
  • 21 x No. 40 Squadron

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