New Zealand – Exercise Santici: preparing leaders in the field

“Are you dead, Jack?” asks a voice in the darkness.
“Yep!” comes the cheerful reply.
If you happened to be in the North Island settlement of Mangakino recently, you may have been privy to some unusual banter as NZ Army Officer Cadets converged on the town for their annual urban training exercise, Exercise Santici.

As part of their training to become Officers, around 40 Army Officer Cadets participated in the ten-day exercise, which prepares them to operate in contemporary military environments.

Scenarios the Officer Cadets are given are based on real operations and the camp they set-up reflects what they would find at a typical patrol base, such as is used in Afghanistan by New Zealand’s Provincial Reconstruction Team: a couple of platoons of soldiers working from a forward operating base, a mess tent with chefs, and some make-shift buildings.

Over the ten days each Officer Cadet practices commanding a platoon (around 30 soldiers), all the while having their field-craft and their application of tactical theory assessed. Every Cadet gets a chance to show their leadership strengths through a variety of scenarios including ‘cordon and search’, and ‘key point protection’ operations – protecting infrastructure that could be targeted by insurgents.

Exercise Santici is mentally demanding. Officer Cadets must think about the enemy, but also factor in how to deal with other variables including the public and the media. One of the staff members overseeing the exercise, Captain Paul Weatherston, explains: “The contemporary operating environment is more complicated than just ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’. Modern soldiers need to be able to deal with other groups, such as local people or journalists, who might be present in the field of operations. That’s why we include interaction with real or simulated media as part of the exercise, to get our soldiers used to working with the media.

“This week we’ve had some of the local kids throwing things into our forward operating base and others asking the cadets for stuff – so just like the real thing, there are multiple players in the modern environment and a lot for the Cadets to consider.”

Exercise Santici is held at Mangakino every year and the town is largely supportive of the NZ Army presence. Many residents take part in role play, including the staging of a ‘public demonstration’ throwing eggs and mud at soldiers, or acting as informers or insurgents, which helps make the scenarios more realistic.

“We need to introduce the cadets to asymmetric threat,” CAPT Weatherston says, “New Zealand has professional soldiers motivated by typical western values. We operate using conventional equipment and techniques, yet we often face forces that aren’t professionally trained, don’t use the same techniques and equipment and whose motivation is different to ours.

“That contributes to the complexity of modern operations. In Mangakino we can give the Cadets an introduction to the new operating environment, which they will build on during their career in the Army.”

Defence Communications Group
New Zealand Army