In 1999, Navy Captain Shaun Fogarty was deployed to East Timor as a military liaison officer with the United Nations.
Capt Fogarty was in town for the country's independence referendum and to make sure it was free from political interference.
While the vote went off without a hitch, the results triggered violence around the country from pro-Indonesian militia.
"There was increased worry that things were getting worse and the next day our headquarters in Baucau came under attack."
Capt Fogarty stayed on in the country and struck-up a friendship with Jose Pinto, a 20-year-old East Timorese man, an interpreter.
"There were fears that militia groups were still active in the area, so we focussed on escorting non-governmental medical organisations and delivering aid supplies directly to the East Timorese," Capt Fogarty said.
The pair worked together in a difficult and volatile situations. They caught up in the flesh for the first time in 20 years this week.
"We were all working together to help the East Timorese get back on their feet, to create a stable space so they could begin to build their country.
"After I left I still had a strong desire to help in whatever way I could. I know that many NZDF [New Zealand Defence Force] personnel felt that way."
Capt Fogarty attended a ceremony to mark the 20 year milestone in Dili. The Timor-Leste Government marked the 20th anniversary of the Independence Referendum on 30 August in Dili.
The NZDF was represented by Captain Fogarty and Brigadier (retired) Neville Reilly, who was the New Zealand Senior Officer and the United Nations Assistance Mission in East.
An NZDF contingent will also attend the 20th anniversary commemorations in Dili on 20 September.