11 April 2019
How do you cope when the project you’re working on is not only followed by the media but also by your family?
For Second Lieutenant Laura Bayfield, it’s all part of a day’s work.
As the Officer in Charge of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contingent sent to South Westland, she is leading the 16 engineers from the New Zealand Army’s 2nd Engineer Regiment working with the New Zealand Transport Agency and Downer to rebuild Waiho Bridge.
The bridge was washed away during heavy rain on 26 March, cutting off access between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef and costing the Westland community an estimated $3 million a day in lost tourism income.
“It’s awesome to be here to help out the community and support the New Zealand Transport Agency,” Second Lieutenant Bayfield said.
Her current assignment is also drawing lots of interest from her family and not just because they often see her on television news reports.
“My dad is a civil engineer and is quite intrigued with the project,” Second Lieutenant Bayfield said. “My sister is studying engineering and so is my boyfriend – they have lots of questions and their own ideas about how we can replace the damaged bridge.”
Once completed, the new 170-metre Waiho Bridge will be the biggest Bailey bridge in the country and is believed to be the largest the Army has helped build since the Second World War.
“The new bridge has 52 bays over piers, whereas most of the bridges we do are 10-12 bays without piers, so it’s epic to be involved in this one,” Second Lieutenant Bayfield said.
“The Army is used to assembling Bailey bridges manually. It is hard work but very rewarding – it’s like putting together a giant puzzle.”
Second Lieutenant Bayfield enlisted in the New Zealand Army in January 2017, after graduating from Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland.
In her final year in high school, where she was a prefect, she attended a two-day symposium at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Auckland focussing on women in the NZDF.
“That gave me a bit of exposure to Army life and I was encouraged to join,” she said.
Although women engineers are no longer a rarity, the fact that engineering is still a male-dominated field does not faze her.
“I have not encountered any gender-based challenges or stereotypical views in my time in the Army,” she said.
“The number of women engineers is definitely growing as perceptions fade that it is a career only for men.”