When Army Reserves Major Vincent Copeland received a phone call activating him to support civil emergency operations when Whakaari erupted, he was the first member of the New Zealand Defence Force on the wharf.
A year on and he has received a military honour, the Chief of Army Commendation from Major General John Boswell for his involvement in the emergency response to the Whakaari/White Island disaster.
Major Copeland received the commendation for his role as a liaison officer where he coordinated between local Iwi, Police, emergency services, and whanau of those killed or injured on the Island. In doing so, he ensured appropriate cultural customs were observed, and that the victims and their families were treated with respect and dignity. The commendation says Major Copeland displayed the core values of the New Zealand Army; Tū Kaha – courage, Tū Tika – commitment, Tū Tira – comradeship and Tū Māia – integrity.
Major Copeland says the honour acknowledges the collaboration Ngāti Awa and the Defence Force achieved to manage the tragedy on Whakaari (White Island).
"Ki a Ngāti Awa, te hiahia o mātou, kia ea ngā tīkanga Māori na te mea kua tapu te motu o Whakaari. Engari kua here te ope kātua i ngā ahuatanga ki te tiki ngā tūpāpaku o runga o Whakaari.
"Nō reira, kia haere ngā kōrero 'me pēhea te huarahi pai kia ea ngā whakaaro o Ngāti Awa kia ea hoki ngā mahi o te ope kātua anō hoki."
(To Ngāti Awa, our priority was to ensure the correct protocols were followed as White Island had become tapu. But the Defence Force wanted to get all the bodies of the deceased off of White Island.
So both Ngāti Awa and the Defence Force discussed and worked out a way to be able to fulfill both their tasks).