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Navy medic from Auckland's North Shore joins humanitarian mission in Samoa

At five years old, Jason Whittingham already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. So he joined the Keas, then the Cubs, the Scouts and, after he turned 11, the Sea Cadets.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the Navy. From a very young age, I was already pursuing that career path,” said the 28-year-old Leading Medic (LMed) from Auckland’s North Shore.

When he eventually joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2004, he felt at home straight away.

“I was with the Sea Cadets for nine years so I already knew the culture and some of the people,” said LMed Whittingham, who was the lone Navy personnel in the 100-strong New Zealand Defence Force contingent deployed to Samoa on a humanitarian aid and disaster response exercise.

Exercise Tropic Twilight, which the NZ Defence Force conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 28 July to 19 August, aimed to test the military’s ability to respond at short notice in the event of a natural disaster in the Pacific.

In Samoa, LMed Whittingham joined the primary health care teams comprised of military doctors from New Zealand, Australia, the United States and France, who conducted outreach clinics in remote villages in the main island of ‘Upolu and the neighbouring Savai’i island. He also helped set up the tent hospital on the grounds of a Samoan high school, where a team of Army surgeons, medical scientists, anaesthetists and civilian healthcare volunteers performed at least 61 minor surgeries during the three-week exercise.

“The weather is hot but it’s good. The Samoans are very friendly and hospitable,” he said.

Although Tropic Twilight provided a welcome respite from a hectic eight months at the outpatient department of the Naval Health Unit in Devonport Naval Base, LMed Whittingham said he could not wait to get home to his partner Melissa, a Navy chef whom he met while he was posted on the Navy frigate HMNZS TE KAHA two years ago, and their four-month-old baby daughter Mila.

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