CPL Ray Trembath – 36 years a soldier
By PTI SSGT Rob Warrender
(Pics – Trembath TL and Trembath BET)
For some, the two most dreaded acronyms in the NZ Army are RFL and BET. The very thought can lead to cold sweats and cause shivers to run up and down the spine. Not so for Cpl Ray Trembath, currently Section Commander of 7 Section, 3 Platoon, deployed on TG GYRO 6, part of New Zealand’s commitment to providing stability in Timor Leste.
He is a firm believer that being physically fit is an essential part of being a soldier, more so if you expect to deploy operationally. And he should know – he’s been soldiering now for nearly 36 years.
CPL Trembath, who turned 54 while deployed on TG GYRO 6, was born on the 24th April 1955 in the small North Island town of Thames. His early years were spent in South Auckland where he attended Puhinui Primary and Papatoetoe Intermediate and High Schools. Upon leaving school he worked with the Post Office in the Construction and Maintenance department. However this did not last long and he soon decided to follow a childhood dream and enlist in the NZ Army. Service is certainly in CPLTrembath’s blood; his father served with the 32nd Bn in the Pacific Campaign during WWII, he had one brother in the Navy, one attended CMT, a cousin served in Vietnam and he has a nephew in the Air Force.
His journey began with attendance on TF Intake No 2. This only served to whet his appetite and so in November of 1973, CPL Trembath found himself in Waiouru on Basic All Arms Recruit Course 111. His instructors were a mix of Korean, Malayan and Vietnam War veterans. He remembers that the voices of his instructors were rarely raised; there was no yelling, screaming or swearing at recruits. They were professionals who knew what was required to turn these young men into soldiers.
After basic training, he was posted to 1 Bn Depot in Burnham where he completed his Infantry Corps Training. It wasn’t long before he was off on that great South East Asian experience that was a posting to 1 RNZIR in Singapore. This would be his first of three such postings; 1975-77, 1979-81 and 1982-85. In all, CPL Trembath would spend seven years at Dieppe Barracks. His fondest memories of that period were the extended periods of patrolling the jungles of Malaysia, honing the skills that his forebears had learnt in previous campaigns on that continent. During his second tour, he came across a chap by the name of LCPL Peter Wood, who would later morph into COL Peter Wood, CPL Trembath’s SNO during the first half of his tour in Timor Leste. Together they journeyed to the Himalayas via Nepal in one of many expeditions mounted from Dieppe Barracks.
CPL Trembath took release from the NZ Army in 1986 to pursue a desire for soldiering in a more challenging environment. He travelled to Namibia and then to Pretoria, where he applied to join the South African Army. When he was informed they were not recruiting at the time, he decided to head back to New Zealand to raise funds for his next big adventure. In 1988, on his trusty 10 speed, CPL Trembath rode from New York, down the eastern seaboard to Florida, then across the southern states to Los Angeles. His most vivid memories were the visual splendour of the Grand Canyon and the intense heat of Death Valley. The journey took him three months.
After his Forrest Gump-like trip across the USA, his mind turned once again to soldiering. Returning home, he soon found employment in a timber mill and raised the required funds that would get him to his next adventure.
In 1989, CPL Trembath presented himself at Fort Du Nugent in Paris; home of the French Foreign Legion. After a month of tests, medicals and interviews he was moved to Castelnardery where he underwent the Legion’s four month recruit course. CPL Trembath remembered the emphasis being on physical fitness and soldiering. Finishing in the top six of his intake, he was rewarded with a posting to the Legion’s premiere unit; 2nd Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes (2REP), part of the 11th Brigade Parachutiste and the spearhead of the French Rapid Reaction Force. As such, it fills what could typically be described as a special forces role for the légion.
After a one-month para and other qualifying courses, CPL Trembath soon found himself in Djibouti, a former French colony located on the Horn of Africa. Over the next five years, using Djibouti as its base, the Legion and CPL Trembath deployed to Chad, Somalia and Rwanda, often spearheading UN humanitarian efforts. CPL Trembath remembers clearly the abject poverty of each country and the destruction often brought about by imploding regimes.
In 1994 it was time to move on. As a retiring corporal, CPl Trembath was entitled to an engraved zippo lighter and a certificate of good conduct as a farewell gift from the legion. But due to his reputation as a highly professional legionnaire, he was awarded an 1813 Napoleonic Cavalry Sabre – a gift normally reserved for SNCOs and officers.
In 1999, in what could be only termed as the ‘Trembath’ way of doing things, he journeyed the length of the North Island and most of the South via the mountain ranges that run down the spine of both islands. He even managed to stop an artillery live-firing exercise when he walked into Waiouru through the training area! Calling on friends along the way, he often stayed in DOC huts or under a hootchie.
In 2000 CPL Trembath re-enlisted in the TF, 27 years after his initial intake. 2001 saw him deploy to Timor Leste on BATT 5 with the rank of Private, as a section gunner. In 2007 he deployed to the Solomon Islands as a section commander, living in canvas tents as his father did before him in WWII.
And now to the present day. CPl Trembath may not only be the oldest section commander deployed operationally, he is also probably the fittest. Proudly holding RFL(G1) and BET qualification status, he is also featured on the legends board at the Kiwi Lines Gym for 20, 30 and 50km efforts on the rowing machine (only stopping at 50km when the batteries ran out on the monitor!).
At the completion of this tour there will be just three additional weeks required for CPLTrembath to be awarded his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. What is his plan for achieving that goal you might ask? Why a CRIB deployment as a section commander of course! The LS & GC Medal and CRIB medals would certainly sit neatly next to the 12 he has already earned.