9 Aug 2010

NZ soldier's family speak of pride and sadness

9:06 am on 9 August 2010

Family members spoke of their pride in Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, the New Zealand soldier killed in Afghanistan, and their sadness at their loss, as his casket was returned to Okahea Air Base on Sunday.

Lieutenant O'Donnell was killed while on patrol last week. Two of his colleagues, Lance Corporal Matthew Ball and Private Allister Baker, were injured.

About 25 of Lieutenant O'Donnell's family and close friends greeted his casket at the air base in Manawatu.

They were joined by political and military leaders, and a 14-strong guard comprising comrades from the first battalion of the Royal New Zealand infantry regiment.

A Radio New Zealand reporter says the casket was carried from the aircraft by a six-strong team of pall bearers, followed by distraught members of Lieutenant O'Donnell's family.

The guard of honour then presented arms and soldiers from the regiment staged a haka, while members of the RSA stood by.

Lieutenant O'Donnell's body was taken to a waiting hearse for release to his family.

Among those at the ceremony was Prime Minister, John Key, who described Lieutenant O'Donnell as a very courageous soldier.

"As Prime Minister, I'm not sure I can think of anything worse than having to receive home a New Zealand soldier in a coffin, but I know that his actions are part of a contingent of New Zealanders trying to make Afghanistan a stabilised and safer place for the rest of the world."

Family pay tribute

At Ohakea, uncle, Barry O'Donnell, said his nephew had always wanted to go to Afghanistan, and felt it was the right thing to do.

He had told his family he was not going there to shoot people but to protect the citizens and give them the chance to have things that people in New Zealand take for granted, his uncle said.

Barry O'Donnell said while many people are ambivalent about the coalition force's presence in Afghanistan, he completely supports his nephew's decision to go.

He said the family was very saddened but remained very proud of Tim.

Lieutenant O'Donnell's brother-in-law, Trevor Farmer, told reporters what a special person Tim was, and how much the family appreciated the help from the armed forces in getting him back from Afghanistan.

Full military honours

Lieutenant O'Donnell will be farewelled at Linton Army Camp in a funeral on Wednesday with full military honours.

The Chief of the Army, Major General Rhys Jones, says Lieutenant O'Donnell's family has asked for full military honours because it is what the soldier would have wanted, having been an army person from an early age.

The two soldiers injured in the roadside ambush that killed their colleague, Lance Corporal Ball and Private Baker, were taken to Auckland Hospital for continued medical treatment after being flown into Whenuapai on Saturday. Both are to attend the funeral.