Exciting Adventure at World's Biggest Maritime Exercise

Leading aircraftman Ben Sanders enjoyed the fast-paced and challenging environment at Exercise Rim of the Pacific in Hawaii.

8 August 2016

Less than five years ago, former Thames High School student Ben Sanders joined the New Zealand Defence Force looking for “an exciting career where every day would be different”. He has not been disappointed.

The leading aircraftman has been all over the Pacific and as far afield as Dubai as an avionics technician with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. His latest adventure took him to Hawaii for Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) – the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

RIMPAC involved 26 nations, 45 ships, five submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel. The biennial exercise took place from 30 June to 4 August around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

"The highlight of the exercise was being around an immense amount of military hardware,” LAC Sanders says. “Things like state-of-the-art fighter jets and amphibious tanks full of troops.

“It was also fascinating to visit Pearl Harbor. I am not sure what was more impressive, visiting the Navy Exchange [military shopping centre] or getting a tour of the US aircraft carrier Stennis,” he says. The USS Stennis is 333m long – the equivalent of about three rugby fields.

As an avionics technician LAC Sanders ensured that the RNZAF’s P-3K2 Orions could participate successfully in the exercise. He fixed faults in the aircraft and carried out “flight-line duties”, such as marshalling and refuelling.

“Working in a fast-paced and challenging environment like RIMPAC was a good test for me. Also, the surf, sun and sand were nice,” he says.

However, returning to a New Zealand winter will not be too much of a let-down for LAC Sanders, who is a snow-sport enthusiast. He plans to go to Mount Ruapehu in mid-August for the Alpine Interbase Competition, a week of snowboarding and skiing. It’s just one of many sporting and leisure activities he enjoys in the RNZAF.

“I play for a base rugby team, and the greater Air Force team, which has taken me on a tour of Otago and to Sydney,” he says.

“The bases also have boats, which I make the most of for water sports and fishing.”

He definitely recommends the “unique lifestyle” of the RNZAF.

“If you want to travel, then being paid to travel around the world – and to see it from a different perspective compared to a normal tourist – is something unique,” he says.

It was just what he was looking for when he joined the RNZAF in late-2011, after a gap year in Australia.

“I’ve always been fascinated by aircraft and wanted to be in an exciting workplace where every day is different.

“An interest in electronics drew me to the trade of avionics and being one of the highest-paid apprentices in the country was a bonus.”