Thirty-five New Zealand Defence Force personnel, who arrived at the Taji Military Complex (TMC) in Iraq on May 18, were confronted with a fierce welcome ceremony.

The new arrivals, the first from Task Group Taji 9 (TGT-9), were challenged by 80 NZDF and Australian Defence Force personnel from Task Group Taji 8 (TGT-8), who performed a haka.

In a rare turn of events, New Zealand personnel from TGT-8 extended an invitation to Australian members of the task group to perform the haka with them.

One of the NZDF TGT-8 members who threw down the haka challenge to TGT-9, Captain Jesse Lust, said it was a great way for them to release some tension.

“It was our final haka of the rotation and it was a way to just release a lot of energy and a way to just end the deployment on a positive note,” Captain Lust said.

“It was a great experience to welcome TGT-9 personnel and just be part of the Taji 8 crew one final time.”

The TGT-9 personnel then performed the NZ Army haka in response.

One of the Australian members of TGT-8 who took part, Sergeant Michael Britten, said he was aware of the significance of the performance.

“It was a very emotional experience. We put a lot of practice in with our team at logistics company headquarters and I was very nervous when we walked out to perform,” Sergeant Britten said.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, being an ANZAC force, being asked to participate; I felt proud.”

Fellow Australian, Lance Corporal Brodie Bush, said he felt the nerves before performing in front of spectators from coalition forces at the TMC.

“At the start of it, I was pretty nervous. The heart rate went up and when we actually got into it, the adrenaline was really pumping,” Lance Corporal Bush said.

For the past six months, the Australian and New Zealand members of TGT-8 have traded cultural lessons while helping train the Iraqi security forces.

“Working with the Kiwis at the health centre, I received a greater understanding of New Zealand and Maori culture, it was really interesting,” Lance Corporal Bush said.