Joe - Force Protection Officer

We grew up in Opotiki, a small town on the East Coast of the North Island. Mum was a primary school teacher. She was always very hard on us with our schooling. Our parents made sure we could read and write before we were old enough to go to school. They were always strict about what marks we got. 70% was not a pass, we had to try harder than that. When we weren’t doing school work, we’d have a great time together as a family, going to the beach, visiting nana and grandad on their kiwifruit orchard. On sick days, we got to stay with nana. She’d let us stay in bed with her all day, tucked up with a hot water bottle. It was the best.

I wanted to be a P.E. teacher, I loved sport. I was meant to go to the states on a basketball scholarship. Unfortunately, that fell through when September 9/11 happened, it meant I couldn’t get my visa in time. It was an amazing opportunity and I had poured all my time and energy into getting selected, but it also meant I missed out on a lot of school and didn’t achieve university entrance. I had to do year 13 twice.

Dad is a vehicle mechanic by trade, but he started out in the army. I always thought I wanted to be a teacher like mum, so I did a physical education degree in the Waikato. When my brother got into the army, it got me thinking more broadly about what I could do. I saw how well he had done and how much he enjoyed it. One day he said to me, “You know, you could be a physical training instructor in the defence force”. I liked the idea, so I started researching. Half way through my final year of uni, I applied for the air force.

The application process was lengthy, but it was worth it when I got through to the selection board. The job interview lasted a whole week. It was the hardest thing I have ever done! We got up early every morning to do our EMAs - early morning activities - which would usually consist of a long run. After that came the physical testing which lasted all day. We got pushed to our absolute limits. They wanted to see if we could cope under extreme pressure. The psychology assessments were stressful and I wondered what exactly they wanted to know or what they thought of me. I decided to be myself. If I put on a facade, they would get the wrong idea about who I was. That was in January 2007. In May that year, I was accepted to the airforce as a Physical Training Instructor.

The testing didn’t stop there, though. I had to train for another six months. It was unreal. Sure, I had a degree and the background knowledge, but it was nothing compared to the training. It was extremely physical. We all tried to eat as much as we possibly could but everyone still lost a ton of weight. Every month we had fitness tests. Women had to get 11.1 on the beep test, do 30 push ups, 30 curl ups and four pull ups

We often discussed the different testing standards between women and men. We’re doing the same job, so why don’t we need to meet the same physical requirements? Some parts of the defence force test differently depending on age and gender. It’s a hard one. If you lower the testing standards, it’ll make it easier for the males and harder for the females. You’re never going to please everyone. In general, women might not be as strong, but you can change that with training. I’ve never found it to be a problem. I trained hard and I enjoyed the challenge.

I’ve had a few different roles within the defence force. As a physical training instructor, I loved getting to know people and helping them achieve their goals. The best part was seeing all these fresh, nervous teenagers develop into men and women. Sometimes it was hard drawing the line between being a friend and manager. I lived on site so the job literally became my life. I couldn’t fully relax. Little things like when we all sat down for dinner in the communal dining room at the end of the day, I still had to maintain my role. There were a lot of impressionable 17 year olds around. One evening I remember feeling awful for eating McDonalds. I could see people looking at me, I bet they were thinking, “But you’re meant to be a physical instructor and you’re eating junk food?!

I loved that job, but I had always wanted to be an officer. I really enjoyed organising things, managing people and looking at the big picture. The opportunity came up and I applied. When I took on that role, I was suddenly in charge of people who used to be in charge of me. It was a big step up. To become an officer you had to pass a selection board. That took three days but this time around it focussed on my leadership skills. How well could I think on my feet and make fast decisions? I was managing the physical training instructors, as well as security, investigations, ground deference and military working dogs.

I worked as an officer for two years and meanwhile I trained to become a force protection officer. I wanted to stretch myself, go higher and higher. During that time I fell pregnant and gave birth to my son, Blake. I was away from him a lot. Whenever I was on a course, he would live with my parents in Opotiki. It was hard. I missed the morning of his first birthday. I missed his second and third birthdays, too. My parents were my number one supporters. Knowing that they were loving and looking after Blake helped ease my homesickness, but it was still very hard.

There are things that I dislike about this job. I don’t like being away from my family, especially from my son. He’s still so little. He goes to Porse, which is a childcare program that people run from their own homes. There are other kids there, about three or four, so it’s almost one on one. We’ve had to move around a lot for our jobs which means Blake has experienced a few different daycares. The positive to it all is that he’s now a very social kid, he loves being around people.

My official title is now Force Protection Officer. I do a lot of recruitment. I give advice to teenagers on their career choices and I’m always telling them, “You don’t need to decide right now. Do subjects at school that you really enjoy or that you’re good at. Stay in school and join as many clubs and sports teams as you possibly can.” A lot of teenagers aren’t sure what they want to do when they leave school. I get a lot of comments from girls when I recruit for the defence force, “Wow, I never knew any of these jobs even existed.” When I was their age, I had no idea either. Last week we had a female only camp because we’re doing a drive to get more females into the program. I hope I can help them see all the options available to them.

I always knew I wouldn’t be able to work in the defence force forever. Cam was in the military as well, he’s just left for a new job as an avionics technician. We knew it would be too difficult for us to find two jobs in the same location, at the same time, within the same posting cycle. It’s really hard for military couples. A lot of them do long distance, or what we call ‘unaccompanied posting’. That’s when you work at a base without your family for a year, or even two. We don’t want to do that, it would be too hard on Blake.

We’ve got goals with the house, it’s taking longer than it should, but that’s the way it goes. We are trying to renovate the whole thing ourselves. I have a few ‘time out’ hobbies, mainly sewing and cake decorating. It’s so different from my job. When I tell people what I’ve made, I feel a real sense of pride. For Blake’s birthday, we had a lego party. I spent days and days planning it and getting everything perfect. I made all of the decorations, the food, and the cake. It was a lego cake and Blake loved it! I made all these little chocolate cake blocks and covered them in bright icing in all different colours. Then we made a crane out of actual lego, as if a little lego man was building this cake himself, lifting the blocks on one by one. I love crafts and I’ve always got a few projects on the go. I have a craft room where I keep all my supplies. It’s the one area of the house where I can close the door and focus on me.

We want to want to have another kid soon. Fingers crossed. I’ve started to look at my other career options. If I stayed in my current role, it would mean I would have to do a lot of travel. I’ve always wanted to own my own business and use the skills that I’ve got. I’ve been tossing up a few ideas. I’m not sure yet if I want to use my recruitment skills, my physical training knowledge, or my management experience. I always try to think ahead as I like to feel organised and take charge of my own career. I’ve got new priorities, like taking more time off work with my next baby.

Cam and I have decided we want to settle in Christchurch. His parents live here and having family around is really important to us. It’s also a place that offers good jobs and good schools. We could have gone back to Opotiki where my parents still live, but there aren’t many jobs available. It wasn’t an easy decision but we don’t regret it. We love living here and it means Blake can go to one primary school, we don’t want to have to move him around the country. I want him and our future kids to have the same, solid childhood that I had.

How do I get into this career?

If you're interested in the defence force there are a number of different career paths you can take. You could work for the Navy, the NZ Army, or the Air Force:

- Check out the defence force's career website, it's a whole website dedicated to helping you find the right pathway.

- They also have a section on women in the New Zealand defence force. There are  profiles of women within the defence force and what their experience has been.

- Another idea is to call the defence force and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this. Here's the contact form on their website to get the ball rolling.