New Zealand Defence Force sees surge in applicants

The Defence Force is enjoying a surge in applicants. There's no clear link to COVID-19 but there have been a lot of people enlisting after losing jobs elsewhere.

From July 1 this year to November 1 the Defence Force had more than 3000 applications - a 35 percent rise compared with two years ago.

And since 2015 the number of women applying has soared by 26 percent, to an average of 220 per month for the same period.

"I think people are seeing it as a career, our attrition rates are down I think in general. When you sign up for 15 years, that's unusual for some young people nowadays," says Warrant Officer Carol Voshaar.

With 1200 Defence Force staff involved in the COVID-19 response and border hotels, most training was put on hold until this week.

"It does create a few issues, there's a lot of coordination and planning that goes into bringing together an exercise with air forces and land forces," says Hemi Smiler, Officer Commander of High Readiness Company.

Those issues mean this is the first large training operation for this year - a mass casualty situation.

It's only pretend pain but it's important they learn to deal with extreme situations so when it comes to the real thing it won't be quite such a shock.

"A training opportunity like this, although unique, is really important - we can't get anything better than what we've got today," says Hemi Smiler, Officer Commander of High Readiness Company.

Scenarios like a mock explosion are designed to simulate, as closely as possible, what might happen when they're deployed overseas. Today there are four combat commanders being assessed on this situation.

"We're like a sports team that doesn't know what sport we're going to play and we just need to be trained for everything, whether it's managing isolation facilities in New Zealand or if it's training the Iraqi army to defeat ISIS in Iraq," says Captain Tony Harris, Operations Officer, 1st Battalion Royal NZ Infantry.

"We don't get a lot of opportunities, particularly at the moment, to get onto exercises that are this large and this complex."

And for those not being assessed, there was a chance to have some fun.

"You get to be yourself, do a bit of acting and pretending," one infantry actor told Newshub.

But there'll be no acting if they're called up for the real deal.