Q&A with Col Thompson, Commander New Zealand TRADOC

Q&A with Col Thompson, Commander New Zealand TRADOC


International Vector

An Exclusive Military Training International Q&A with

Colonel Karyn M. Thompson


Training and Doctrine Command

New Zealand



Q: With just a few months as commander, tell me about the focus and direction you are planning during your tenure here. Have you given the command staff your commander’s guidance, as to your expectations and goals?


Thompson: Having been in the role for six weeks, my immediate focus is building on the work done by my predecessors to ensure that Training and Doctrine Command (New Zealand) (TRADOC (NZ)) is positioned to deliver NZ Army 2020 Enhanced Combat Capability initiatives and directives, and is postured to enable the Army’s growth in capability and capacity. It is also of vital importance to me that TRADOC (NZ) units operate from fit-for-purpose infrastructure, delivering relevant, challenging and professional training and education. This will ensure that our force elements, including TRADOC (NZ) personnel, are trained, prepared and certified to deploy and win on operations, and are ready to support domestic outputs.

CAE September

A real focus for me, into the future, is to continue to develop our instructor excellence model. This sees us implementing initiatives to improve, recognize and reward instructor quality. In terms of my commander’s guidance, it is firmly based around three key tenets: Mission First, Safety Always; Instructor Excellence; and the Army’s core values: Courage, Commitment, Comradeship and Integrity (known as C3I). Underpinning all this is the embedding at all levels within TRADOC (NZ), for staff and students alike, of the NZ Army’s binding culture of Ngati Tumatauenga (Tribe of the God of war). This blends the customs and traditions of both our major cultures, the European and the Māori, to create something that is not only unique but is also relevant to future demands, and unites us together by the ethic of service, by military professionalism, and by common values, traditions and purpose. My command staff is fully aware of these and we will work together to ensure that they are delivered.


Q: Is TRADOC (NZ) optimally organized to meet the training requirements of New Zealand land forces in today’s evolving battlespace?


Thompson: Currently the organization of TRADOC (NZ) is quite well matched to the requirements of the NZ Army and NZDF for training its land forces in terms of the structure and types of training units, along with their outputs.

The TRADOC (NZ) purpose is three-fold: to deliver individual warfighter skills and leadership training to the NZ Army; to deliver individual and force element mission preparedness and certification, and to deliver ready and engaged Army Reserve Forces (Territorial Forces) to meet operational and domestic outputs. As such, our organization is based around a headquarters and four training delivery units. Two of these are based here in Waiouru: the Army Command School (ACS) and The Army Depot (TAD); the Land Operations Training Centre (LOTC) and the NZ Collective Training Centre (NZ CTC) are located in Hokowhitu and Linton respectively. All of these units have schools or training wings located across the other major Army camps and bases.

Therefore, our biggest challenge is not in fact the number of units or what they deliver, but is the breadth and spread of our units across New Zealand. If you include the three Reserve Force infantry battalions we have representation across the whole of both the North and South Islands, from Whangarei in the north to Invercargill in the far south. This makes administration and command interesting at times.

Additionally, as a comparatively small Defence Force, we are also looking at how we can achieve better synergies for training within the joint environment, particularly how we can conduct common training with other services whilst maintaining the necessary land force aspects required within the single service environment.


Q: So exactly what individual training do these organizations deliver?


Thompson: The Leadership Development Framework (NZDF) is the foundation for all of our training in the NZ Army. The ACS, based in Waiouru, delivers Army officer ab initio training, individual soldier promotional courses and leadership-specific training, and consists of three sub units. First, there is the Officer Cadet School (NZ), which is responsible for the training of selected personnel to develop their leadership, character and education, in order to motivate and prepare them for commissioned service in New Zealand’s Army.

This has proven to provide a well-balanced junior leader who is taught and developed within our leadership framework using the section and platoon infantry environment as the mechanism to learn leadership.

Second, the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Wing: this sub-unit’s role is to impart the knowledge, skills and values required of a Regular or Reserve Force soldier, and to provide individual leadership development. It comprises two and three regional training wings based in Linton and Burnham, the Army Reserve Junior NCO Wing in Linton, the Senior NCO Wing and the Warrant Officer Wing. The NCO School is staffed entirely by SNCOs and WOs as part of a recent initiative that sees soldiers responsible for training soldiers in leadership and command.

The final sub-unit is the Army Leadership Centre (ALC) which complements the OCS and the NCO School by conducting residential workshops and experiential leadership development activities, targeting and challenging factors like “leadership techniques” and “resilience” whether mental or physical. The ALC works with OCS and the NCO School in providing “leadership development” techniques and “developmental factors” identified and aligned to rank.

Also based in Waiouru, TAD is responsible for the delivery of recruit induction training courses for Regular and Army Reserve Force soldiers.

It consists of one Reserve and two Regular Force recruit training companies, which run four Regular Force all arms recruit courses and one Reserve Force recruit course each year. The Army Instructor Excellence Program was launched through TAD and is to be rolled out across all of our units and schools in the next few years.

Initial trade specific (Corps) to advanced individual training courses for the NZ Army is delivered by LOTC. Its role is to generate competent and confident personnel, trained in classical and contemporary operation competencies as part of the training continuum in a joint environment in order to generate individual and combined arm force elements for joint interagency multinational operations. It consists of 10 schools that deliver command and control, combat, combat support and combat service support training. There is a mixture of military and civilian instructors across the schools and they are located in Hokowhitu, Linton and Trentham.

NZ CTC, collocated with 1 (NZ) Brigade in Linton, is focused on the delivery of mission specific training (MST) and readiness certification. It comprises of three wings that deliver force protection, conduct after capture and peacekeeping training and accreditation. This training is primarily for NZDF force elements who are to operate in the land environment and is assessed against directed joint mission essential tasks for that theatre of operations. The endstate is an individual or a force element that is trained to the required operational level of capability.

Within the next 12 months we will also be establishing our Mission Command Training School (MCTS)—the former Army Simulation Centre, as a standalone unit, also in Linton. It is currently part of the LOTC, and its revised role will be to enable and deliver multi-level simulated mission command training and support as well as contribute to analysis, experimentation and evaluation in order to enhance the operational outputs of the NZ Army in support of the Network Enabled Army program. This will see the NZ Army improve not only in terms of hardware related to the program, but also benefit by improved C2 through more efficient processes and procedures, enhanced situational awareness and ultimately better and more timely decision-making. This will occur during both the introduction into service and once the capabilities reach steady-state. Ideally, digitization of systems such as tactical engagement simulators will allow better after action reviews for tactical training, as well as allow such training to be incorporated simultaneously, or replayed later, as a component of higher level training activities such as command post exercises. With such linkages across multiple simulation systems there is scope for a variety of synergies to be achieved from a single training event.

We are also looking to extend and expand the role of the Adaptive Warfighting Centre, which generates and maintains the NZ Army knowledge edge in order to support the development of an adaptive and learning culture in the NZ Army. This may see it integrated into the new MCTS structure.


Q: Do you think the training matches what the missions are and how do you see that evolving?


Thompson: Overall yes, I do see the organizational structure meeting our current and immediate training requirements. TRADOC (NZ) conducts a variety of training across the spectrum from ab initio training of soldiers and officers, through trade/function-specific individual training, and then collective predeployment training of force elements about to deploy on missions. As such,within the ab initio training the focus remains on those essential fundamental skills for all soldiers and officers across the spectrum of tasks. Within the trade/function-specific individual training, the focus again remains necessarily broad, but has evolved in recent years to ensure that there are more contemporary elements included. Within the collective pre-deployment training space the training is understandably focused on the mission, environment and tasks that the deploying force elements are preparing for.

To achieve this, TRADOC (NZ) must deliver training outputs now to support Enhanced Combat Capability 2015 – 2020, with an eye on setting conditions for the future state of integrated Defence Force 2020–2035. Therefore, our instructional elements must deliver relevant, challenging and professional training and education that supports current and future land warfare within the Joint environment. Our philosophy therefore is quite simple:


  • We teach doctrine not unit best practice
  • We “Train In”, not “Select Out”
  • When in doubt, we focus on foundation warfighting skills: move, shoot, communicate, medicate, trade and lead
  • We mentor, coach, lead, instruct our comrades


As such we are constantly reviewing our individual training delivery options, against both our sister services and allies, to identify improvement options and we are currently key stakeholders in a number of training review projects being undertaken by the NZDF. This will ensure that force elements trained by TRADOC (NZ) are prepared and certified ready to deploy and win on operations.


Q: We understand that TRADOC (NZ) runs a “resilience” training program for soldiers. Can you provide some more details around this?


Thompson: Yes, TAD runs a program called Aumangea. Aumangea is a Māori word that describes the qualities of bravery, determination and resilience.

The philosophy of Aumangea is very simple. It provides an environment that enables volunteers to push themselves beyond anything that they may have experienced before and is open to volunteers from all three services and also to international students. The program delivers two 33-day courses. The first is a baseline course that is designed to extend the students’ imagination, innovativeness and resourcefulness by forcing them to achieve what they thought were impossible goals, and to survive. The second course is only open to personnel who have attended and passed the baseline course. It takes those principles and pushes the environmental challenges even further. In short, it is designed to inculcate the spirit and belief in an individual that they will win regardless of the environment.


Q: How do you interact with your other service counterparts (Air Force and Navy) for collaborative training opportunities? Do you think you could work more closely together to find ways to improve training and reduce the cost of training?


Thompson: In the individual training environment, the main engagement forum across the three services in relation to individual training is the Training and Education Leadership Team (TELT). This consists of myself, my Navy and Air Force counterparts and the commandant of the New Zealand Defence College (NZDC). The focus of the TELT is upon the strategic direction of NZDF training and education and the evolution of the Professional Military Framework.

It acts as the executive committee to arbitrate on unresolved training and education matters for subordinate forums, such as the Army Training Review Board. As already mentioned, we are all part of a number of training review projects being undertaken by the NZDF; one of which is focused on individual training and education system improvement through partnering and learning consolidation across the three services.

At a formation and unit level, as well as through the NZDC, we are continuing to look at ways that common training can be achieved; for example, through joint officer induction courses or—within TRADOC (NZ)—the Trade Training School at LOTC providing training to RNZN or RNZAF armorers as the subject matter experts in common small arms weapon systems. Additionally, if joint capabilities are required, such as the use of aircraft for aerial dispatch training, delivery is coordinated between the training establishment and the capability holder to try to achieve best effect training benefits for all participants. Wider collaborative collective training is usually coordinated through HQ Joint Forces New Zealand.


Q: Similarly, how would you characterize the level of cooperation and collaboration with land forces training elements of regional and global allies?


Thompson: We have a very strong regional and global training relationship. Currently we have a number of international students attending courses at the ACS, both ab initio officer training with students from Australia, Timor Leste, Fiji, Tonga, Singapore and Papua New Guinea, and on the promotion and leadership courses. We also have our own officer cadets attending the Australian and Singaporean Officer Cadet academies. We regularly send training teams to the Pacific nations and also to Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste. There are also a number of instructor exchange programs that we run across all our units. In terms of international co-operation and collaboration, we have a number of NZ Army students attending courses in Australia, the UK, Canada and the U.S.

We see this cross-pollination of ideas, both from students and staff, as an important aspect of the ongoing development of training and wider New Zealand relationships. Again, similar to wider collaborative collective training amongst the services, such training with allies is usually coordinated through HQ Joint Forces New Zealand; TRADOC (NZ) personnel are often involved in these activities in a variety of roles.


Q: What are the training obligations and standards for the Army Reserve?


Thompson: The basic level of capability requirements for all the Army Reserve are to be completed within a one- or two-year training cycle and are directed by land component commander recommendation. Reserves are deemed to be “effective” if they meet the compliance and training requirements set by their COs for the training year. Effectiveness is certified by an individual’s CO. In broad terms, effectiveness is achieved by qualifying on the annual weapons qualification and passing the required fitness level test. They must also be classed as having delivered efficient service, which is a minimum of 20 days’ service per training year. Specific trade competency requirements for specialist personnel are directed by the Regular Force parent unit they are attached to.


Q: In looking over the New Zealand Ministry of Defence major acquisition programs, there were none that relate directly to Army training. Is TRADOC (NZ) currently managing any significant acquisition programs? Are there any requirements you have for training systems or devices, including new or upgrades, which you are advocating for?


Thompson: You are quite correct in the fact that there are currently no major acquisition programs that directly focus on Army individual training.

However, we are heavily involved in all aspects of land, and in some instances maritime and air capability acquisition and introduction into service. This is because individual training requirements cut across all of the NZDF’s fundamental inputs to capability: personnel, research and development, infrastructure and organization, concepts, doctrine and collective training, information and equipment, logistics and resources. For example, with the introduction of medium and heavy operational vehicles we have procured vehicle fault simulators that allow our mechanics to be trained in fault diagnosis across a variety of scenarios without having to take an operational vehicle offline, and we can rapidly change between scenarios.

We are looking to further upgrades of our infrastructure to support training; in terms of matching new capabilities, growing the Army and our overall reinvestment in the defense estate. This will see both specialist infrastructure—such as fit-for-purpose workshop or range facilities—as well as general infrastructure, for example, new, expanded or upgraded multi-use training venues.

Where possible the NZDF is trying to ensure that appropriate resources for training are incorporated into capability projects. Therefore we must be part of the acquisition process at the earliest possible stage to ensure that we provide both subject matter input into these requirements and are also preparing ourselves to deliver the training to support their introduction and through life service.

In regards to requirements for system upgrades, currently we are looking principally at areas around weapon training systems within the sim environment. Our current focus is on sniper/support weapons trainer upgrades using VBS3-based products.


Q: To what extent are you, or planning to, make use of live, virtual, constructive training capabilities?


Thompson: Traditionally, much of the training within the NZDF was conducted through live-training capabilities, with limited virtual or constructive capabilities.

During recent years, and as virtual and constructive systems have improved, there has been an increase in their uptake across training in the NZDF. MCTS makes extensive use of live, virtual and constructive simulation technologies to enable command and control procedural training across the whole Army, in both the collective and individual training space, for a wide range of ranks, specialties and functional areas. Central to this effort is the use of Masa’s Sword constructive simulation to stimulate the central piece of the Army’s battle management system: Systematic’s SitaWareHQ. MCTS also supports small-team tactics, techniques and procedures training using Bohemia Interactive Simulations’ VBS3 virtual simulation products. MCTS will be the unit for the delivery of Army’s replacement Saab Tactical Engagement Simulation system from next year. Delivering this has also required us to cultivate a diverse range of skills not only in technology, but in adult learning and teaching, e-learning, and m-learning; training governance; and geospatial support.

In the current live space we are looking towards a tactical engagement simulators fleet upgrade in June 2017, with 450 soldier sets being purchased, along with individual weapon, support weapons, grenades, improvised explosive devices and rocket propelled grenades, B vehicles and bunker protection, which will open up new areas in which to train. The new equipment will also interact with the current SART fleet of targets.

In the virtual domain we have a 12-lane weapon training simulation system (WTS) at Waiouru and two mobile systems (MWTS), one at each of our main land operational camps: Linton in the North Island and Burnham in the South Island.

We also have JTAC/FOT trainers, a sniper/support weapon trainer, including the upgrade of the Waiouru WTS and the building of WTS facilities in Linton and Burnham. We are also investigating the use of VBS software, where possible, to allow the capabilities to be linked.

As for our future intentions, we are looking at augmented reality (AR) options as part of our future sim strategy. As part of these assessments, we have concluded that the current refresh of WMTF and the purchase of the LMC and BMC WTS will probably be the last time we invest in expensive hardware, as within 10 years AR technology will have matured enough so that AR is available and built into user’s ballistic glasses. This will allow the introduction of virtual targets to be displayed within the user’s eye wear, enabling training to occur anywhere and at minimal cost.










About Colonel Karyn Marie Thompson


Colonel Karyn Marie Thompson grew up on a farm near Palmerston North in the Manawatu region and was educated at Palmerston North Girls’ High School, where she was Head Prefect in her final year.

Thompson enlisted into the New Zealand Army in January 1989 and underwent officer training at the Officer Cadet School, Waiouru. She graduated in December 1989 into the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals as a second lieutenant. After graduation she received junior officer regimental training.

In 1991 she was posted to 1st Brigade Headquarters Signal Squadron, Papakura, as the radio troop commander. She was promoted to lieutenant in December 1991 and in December 1992 she was posted to the Force Support Group Signal Squadron, Linton Camp, as the radio troop commander.

In June 1993, 2 Signal Squadron was established and Thompson assumed the appointment of troop commander communications and information systems (CIS) troop. She also held the appointment of administration officer.

In 1994 Thompson was posted to the Army Combat Centre, Waiouru, as the adjutant. She deployed on her first operational tour, with the New Zealand Contingent Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai as staff officer operations for seven months from October 1994. On her return to New Zealand she was appointed accounting officer, The Army Depot, and was then posted as adjutant of Headquarters Military Studies Institute, Waiouru. She was promoted to Captain in December 1995.

In September 1996 she returned to Linton Camp as operations officer and then acting officer commanding 2 Signal Squadron during 1998.

In 1999 Colonel Thompson was posted to Headquarters 2nd Land Force Group as the intelligence officer (S2). During this posting she took part in Exercise Long Look 1999 and deployed to SFOR in the former Yugoslavia as an intelligence officer. She then deployed to East Timor in October 1999 for eight months. She was employed initially in the Coalition Intelligence Branch, HQ International Force East Timor, then as the S2 in Headquarters Dili Command. When the mission transitioned to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor Thompson was employed as the Staff Officer Military Information Cell, Headquarters Sector West, Suai.

Thompson was promoted to major in December 2000. For the first four months of 2001, she was employed as both the S2 and the public relations officer in Headquarters 2nd Land Force Group, Linton Camp. In May 2001 she also served as acting officer commanding 2 Signal Squadron. In December 2001 Thompson was posted as the officer commanding 2 Signal Squadron, an appointment she held until December 2003.

In 2004 Thompson attended New Zealand Defence Force Command and Staff College, and graduated as Dux of the course. She was then posted to Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand where she was employed as the CIS operations officer (J63), the CIS land plans officer (J65L) and the CIS plans officer (J65). In September 2006, on promotion to lieutenant colonel, she assumed the role as Staff Officer Grade One Command and Control, Communications, Computers and Electronic Warfare Capability Management Cell, Army General Staff, and also became regimental colonel of the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals.

In December 2008, Thompson was appointed commandant Officer Cadet School (NZ), Waiouru. In December 2010, she was posted to Army General Staff, Trentham as the staff officer grade one Military Career Management. In July 2012, she was posted to Headquarters NZDF as the program principal for the newly established Institute for Leader Development. In November 2012 she was appointed as the director of the Institute for Leader Development, reporting to the New Zealand Defence College.

In December 2013, Thompson was promoted to her present rank and posted into the role of Manager Human Resource Strategic Programmes, Defence Personnel Executive, which included the appointment of Chief Human Resource Officer (Army). She chaired the NZ Defence Force Women’s Development Steering Group and was a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the Ministry of Defence Review into Maximising Opportunities for Military Women in the NZDF in 2013.

Colonel Thompson took up her appointment as commander TRADOC (NZ) on 19 September 2016.

In November 2015 Thompson won the Diversity category of the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards for her work as one of the most senior military women in the NZDF, consistently advocating for diversity and inspiring women to enter a career in the military. The judges recognized that in such a male dominated environment, her work has been instrumental in breaking down barriers and creating positive change for women. She was also a finalist in the Board and Management category.

Thompson holds a Bachelor of Arts (History) from the University of New England (1999) and in 2005 she was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts (Defence and Strategic Studies) with a Distinguished Pass from Massey University. She was awarded a Master of Management (Management) from Massey University in November 2011. She has been a member of the Institute of Directors in New Zealand and is an Executive Member of the Army Leadership Board and the New Zealand Veterans Advisory Board.

In June 1994, Colonel Thompson was awarded the Chief of General Staff’s Commendation for resuscitating a drowned child.

In the post of commander TRADOC she is the first female commander of a formation in the New Zealand Army.