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Service academy turns life around

John Coombe says seeing his son standing tall, in his New Zealand Army uniform, makes his chest swell with pride.

Armed: Owen Coombe is loving the discipline that comes with life in the army.



The Waitangirua man got to see his son Owen graduate from the army’s basic training recently and said he was doing well.

‘‘Owen absolutely loves the army,’’ he said.

‘‘After a few days back here in Porirua he said, ‘Dad, I want to go home’.

‘‘The army’s his home now. It’s made him a man and I respect that. I’m so proud of him.’’

Before joining the Mana College Services Academy, Coombe said Owen was hanging with people who just wanted to drink alcohol and get in trouble.

Having no job and being a drifter on the dole was a real possibility for Owen, he said.

The discipline and direction Owen received from David Prosser and Tom Katu, who run the academy, was one of the reasons he turned his life around, Coombe said.

‘‘The opportunity changed his life. He has met so many people and got incredible life skills as well as practical ones. I can’t thank the instructors at Mana enough; what an inspiration.’’

Mana Services Academy has been operating since 2009. Students can do NCEA studies alongside military- focused programmes. They have to parade each morning before going into the classroom.

The only other services academy in the region is at Naenae College. There are 24 academies around New Zealand.

Prosser said the minimum priority was NCEA level 1, especially in mathematics and English, and other credits were earned by completing outdoor education, physical training and other units.

Some academy students are already beyond usual college age.

‘‘ It might be kids that are possibly disengaging in the mainstream and might have an interest in the armed forces,’’ he said.

‘‘We offer a different approach and it seems to be working. The students really respond to what we’re doing.’’

Prosser said the support from Mana College principal Mike Webster and senior management was pivotal.

Owen’s younger brother would also likely join Mana College’s service academy, Coombe said.

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