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Liston College Old Boy - Rian McKinstry

Below is an article written by Col. Rian McKinstry. In addition to his review of life in his article since leaving Liston as a young man, Rian was responsible for planning the mission to recover the bodies from White Island in December 2019.

Colonel Rian McKinstry (class of 1989), Defence Attache Belgium and France at NZDF

It is an honour to have been invited to contribute to the Listonian reflecting on my experiences at Liston, my career since then, its highlights and challenges and how the values of the Liston man have influenced my journey.

I was a student at Liston from 1983 through until 1989. I recall how in 1983 as young boys entering the college, we had the potential for anything. There was my first teacher Brother Mick O’Donnell, and his coaching of our 7th grade rugby team, our classroom fire, months at St Dominic’s while the classrooms were rebuilt, Mr Brownie Hemana, his stories and his very sad Tangi, assemblies singing the school song as loudly as we could (I still know all the words), and Mr Rooney reprimanding me for my very poor choice of school attire on more than one occasion. Engineering workshops with Mr Jamieson, caving expeditions, learning to scuba dive, school camps at Piha and Whatipu. So many memories, all characterised by an environment that helped us grow our knowledge and intellect and develop into Liston men.

All too quickly it was November 1989, and we were young men heading off on our separate ways. I was never the most diligent student. In fact, I recall being somewhat lazy and wayward, particularly as I entered my teenage years. I think at the time I was unsure of my potential and cautious about the future. What I was clear about then and what I can look back on now with a dose of nostalgia is how happy my friends and I were and how the school took such great care of us all.

My father had served in the Army, and I had always felt a need to spend some time in military service. I was seeking a trade so in 1990 I joined up to train as a Chef, with dreams to sail the world one day, working in the galley of a super yacht. What I quickly learned through the Army was that I loved the many challenges it put in front of young people like myself, and that cooking was not for me. I began training as an Army officer and this created new opportunities to serve in the Artillery and Special Forces environments within our Defence Force.

30 years of military service has provided me with so many learning opportunities, it is difficult to start to put them into words. I have been privileged to serve in our Special Forces and to lead at a high level. What has stood out for me about this part of my life is the potential of our servicemen and women and the resilience of the human mind and body when trained. To serve in Special Forces requires a personal commitment to push yourself into ever more unknown areas, both physical and mental. In doing so each and every one of us takes away personal learnings that we can lock away and draw from when the going inevitably gets hard. In prayer, you might ask the Lord to give you strength and perseverance. In Special Forces we know that strength and perseverance come from effort and the more effort you put in the more that you can take out.

I cannot help but reflect on the values of Liston and the tenets of our Special Air Service. Liston asks you to act responsibly and serve faithfully; we ask for the highest standards of discipline and to brook no sense of class. Liston asks for you to walk humbly; we ask for humility and humour. Liston asks you to think effectively and deliver excellence; we ask for the unrelenting pursuit of excellence. There is fundamental alignment between the values of the College and the tenets of the Special Air Service. I have personally found that these values and in particular the unrelenting pursuit of excellence to be foundational building blocks in any approach towards high performance in whichever field or endeavour we choose to pursue. I want to stress that pursuing excellence does not mean being the best. It means striving hard to be better or get better each and every time.

While in Special Forces I have been honoured and privileged to serve alongside several other Liston College old boys. These men exemplify the essence of both sets of values. They stand out to me as markers of our college and the high potential in the young men it develops.

In closing I draw on a theme from the comments of a friend of mine who gave some recent guidance to school leavers from his old high school, and it is a theme that has resonated with me as I have reflected on my school days and my career to date. Through every stage of our lives, people who do not really know us will make judgements on our potential. The truth is only you know what you are truly capable of. Relentlessly pursue your path and don’t let the judgement of others dissuade you from unleashing your potential.

In Christ We Live

Rian McKinstry

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