The News chief reporter Steve Addison talks to Jim Cutler, from Lowburn, about his distinguished career with the New Zealand Army.
honoured following an outstanding military career, which finished with a post as honorary colonel of the South Island Army Reserve Battalion (2/4 RNZIR), from which he retired this year – ending 51 years’ service in army and defence posts.
Lieutenant-colonel (retired) Cutler began his career with the New Zealand Army when he enlisted in 1966 and graduated from officer cadet school in Portsea, Australia, in 1969, before being posted to Singapore.
It was not long before he was on active duty in Vietnam as a 24-year-old platoon commander leading a platoon in ambush and patrolling.
“In Vietnam, New Zealand was very well prepared with excellent training. I am so proud of the New Zealand Army; they are so well trained,” he said, discussing his experience from that time to today.
During a busy career, Lt-col Cutler was promoted through the officer ranks as he was posted to a variety of training, strategic and management roles.
He served in Sarajevo and Macedonia as a senior military observer with the United Nations Protection Force in 1992 and 1993.
In that role, he had free rein to speak to warring Serbian, Croatian and Muslim leaders.
“We did have some influence .. we could talk to them.
“If they stopped hostilities even for half a day, that was a win,” he said.
Despite small wins, “in many ways it was a thankless task, really”.
“We would talk to senior Serb, Croat and Muslim commanders about [not] firing into bread and water lines.
“Until Nato were involved, we didn’t get a lot of result. Nato should have been involved five years earlier.
“I felt less safe in Sarajevo than Vietnam .. you didn’t know where the bombs were going to fall.
“Mums and daughters would be walking down the street, then a bomb would land among them .. it took its toll.”
Lt-col Cutler was responsible for 60 international observers stationed on all sides of the conflict.
“I was looking after them. They had no war experience. Some were badly affected by it all .. had to send several home. They couldn’t handle it – a lot of trauma, a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
When he looks back at his career, he tries to look at the good things.
“Time as a military observer in the Sinai was very peaceful,” he said. He enjoyed his time there.
He also speaks fondly of his time looking after officer selection and progression for the army.
After retiring from the army in 1998, Lt-col Cutler worked for the Ministry of Defence in senior roles until 2011, when he moved to Lowburn with his wife, Glenda.