Thursday, December 30, 2004


December 30, 2004 4:31pm


Wellington, Dec 31 - Trooper Phillip Cheater believes he was just doing his job when he risked his life trying to help fallen comrade Private Leonard Manning.

Tpr Cheater, a member of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR), was today awarded the Gallantry Decoration for his actions in East Timor on July 24, 2000, when a New Zealand patrol was ambushed.

His father Murray Cheater said his 25-year-old son would accept the award ``with a shrug of the shoulders'.

``He'll say ``that's very nice and life goes on',' Mr Cheater told NZPA.

Tpr Cheater had discussed the incident with his father.

``He's taken the attitude that he did what he was trained to do.'

The soldiers' patrol was ambushed by armed militia in dense jungle near the southern town of Suai.

Tpr Cheater, then a private, saw Pte Manning hit and fall.

Despite being under heavy fire, Tpr Cheater went to the aid of his friend, not realising that Pte Manning had been killed.

When he did find out his mate was dead, he tried to retrieve his machine gun to stop it falling into the hands of the militia.

Tpr Cheater's face and head were bleeding from splinter wounds from bullets hitting trees around him.

Mr Cheater and his wife Eileen did not hear about the incident or their son's involvement in it for some time.

``He survived, whether it's gallant or not is basically irrelevant,' Mr Cheater said.

Tpr Cheater had met the Manning family several times since Leonard's death.

Mr Cheater said he and his wife try not to worry about the safety of their son.

``As parents you are concerned but there's not much you can do about it.

``You just hope and you know that he's trained and equipped as best as he possibly can be.'

Tpr Cheater's actions demonstrated ``exceptional gallantry and comradeship in the face of extreme danger and stress', the award citation said.

Pte Manning's mother Linda, who lives in the Waikato town of Putaruru, was pleased when she learned about Tpr Cheater's award,

``It's really good to hear Phillip's going to be honoured this way,' she told NZPA. ``It's certainly very well deserved.'

Pte Manning's family have just marked their fifth Christmas since his death, which Mrs Manning said was easier than the others had been.

``Once you are given the space to work through the grieving process it becomes easier, but the fact is that my son's never coming home. That will never change.'

Another RNZIR member, Sergeant Ngametua Tetava, was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal for showing ``great presence of mind and decisiveness' when grenade exploded.

Sgt Tetava was a safety supervisor at a live firing range in Australia in 1999 prior to being deployed to East Timor.

He was supervising Private Kelly (eds - no first name given) who was kneeling beside a gully to reload his gun when a grenade fell short of its target, his citation said.

It landed on the edge of the gully near Pte Kelly who was unaware of the danger.

Sgt Tetava quickly pushed Pte Kelly away from the gully edge and lay over his upper body, the citation said.

Pte Kelly suffered a flesh wound from the exploding grenade.

``Sgt Tetava displayed a complete disregard for his own safety and in doing so, prevented a fellow soldier from sustaining a much more serious injury.'

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