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Vaughn Davis as a young RNZAF pilot (Photo: Supplied)
Vaughn Davis as a young RNZAF pilot (Photo: Supplied)

OPINIONPoliticsNovember 19, 2022

Boot camp is a privilege, not a punishment

Vaughn Davis as a young RNZAF pilot (Photo: Supplied)
Vaughn Davis as a young RNZAF pilot (Photo: Supplied)

Equating military training with a criminal sentence is an insult to young people who serve their country, writes former RNZAF pilot Vaughn Davis.

When I was five, like most of my friends, I decided I’d be a fighter pilot.

When I was 17, unlike most of my friends, and the hundreds of others who applied that year, I was offered a place as an officer cadet in the RNZAF. I can still remember opening the letter and how amazed, thrilled and relieved I was to have made it in.

Standing in the driveway of our state house in the Hutt looking at that blue form, I knew it had all been worth it. Digging in and doing well at school. Killing any chance I ever had of being cool by joining the Air Training Corps. And avoiding the many opportunities to go off the rails that 1980s Lower Hutt presented a kid left to his own devices while his mum was working extra shifts.

Aged 17 years and six months – luckily, the start of my officer training course was on the exact day I turned old enough to join – I headed south to RNZAF Base Wigram.

The first months of our training were exactly as you’d imagine, and I guess what National Party justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith envisions happening in what he has described as young offender “boot camps”.

We marched up and down, did press-ups, made our beds perfectly, polished our boots and ironed our shirts. Because we were going to be officers, we were even taught – in the cheap suits our mums were still paying off at Hallenstein’s – how to eat and drink proper.

Then we were taught to lead, communicate, analyse, plan, improvise and eventually fly. Finally, we used those skills to keep New Zealanders safe in all sorts of ways. We weren’t paid particularly well and the aeroplanes we flew were pretty long in the tooth, but year in, year out, we did what was asked of us.

There are lots of reasons not to like the idea of young offender boot camps. For starters, the fact that they appear to not reduce reoffending.

But for me, number one is viewing as a punishment the military training which recruits are privileged to receive.

If a young offender is interested in joining the military, and they meet the rightly strict criteria, by all means encourage them to apply, and support them if they’re lucky enough to be accepted.

But don’t insult the young people lining up for the chance to serve their country by equating their career choice with a sentence.

Don’t insult the instructors who spend as much time counselling their rangatahi as they do showing them how to salute, clean barrack floors and march 20 clicks across the training area by lunchtime.

Don’t insult the thousands serving today by encouraging their mates to ask them at a barbecue whether they volunteered to join or if they were sent by a judge.

The skills I learned from my “boot camp” and the hundreds of hours of training that followed it are a taonga that I will carry with me for life. To have been given that experience, 100% funded by the taxpayers of New Zealand, was a privilege I will never forget.

The idea that spending a year in the military could be handed down as punishment for driving your mum’s Corolla through the front window of a liquor store is just wrong.


Vaughn Davis is an advertising creative director and founder of the agency The Goat Farm. Before he worked in advertising he was a pilot in the RNZAF, mostly flying the C130 Hercules.

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