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