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In their boots

Join the New Zealand Army as they celebrate International Women's Day 2024. Hear from Ashleigh, Anri and Natasha about life in service as a soldier and their thoughts on being wāhine in the New Zealand Defence Force.

08 March, 2024

Captain Ashleigh Bush

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Captain Ashleigh Bush says she’s been supported very well throughout her journey as a working mother in the New Zealand Defence Force – hear her story:

“I joined in January 2005, had a small break in the middle (2012–2016) and rejoined in 2017.

“Promoting to Captain came at a particularly challenging time for my family and the course was intense so I was proud to have achieved it.

“I’m currently working remotely from home as part of the Kippenberger Scheme, which is a funded study scholarship for my Masters in Peace, Conflict and Security, specialising in gender. I’ve recently finished six months of parental leave, so I have my 11 month old at home with me while I study!

“I haven’t served operationally due to having my three children and making them a priority, but I’ve been on numerous exercises over the years, including some overseas.

“Personally, I have been supported very well throughout my journey as a working mum in Defence. Because of my understanding of the value of women in the workplace I feel I have imparted that on the teams I work with and lead, which has contributed to the morale and team cohesion in the unit.

“There’s been a number of people that have helped me, been a shoulder, guided me and developed me professionally. Major Sara Curtis is my best friend and also a working mum so has always offered support and guidance; Colonel Mel Childs has guided me and offered sound advice whenever I have needed it and is definitely a role model; and Captain Frankie Thompson is a relatively new friend of mine who shares a similar mindset as me and has a passion for women in Defence, so she also is someone who has helped mentor me through certain situations.

“All genders need to be respected for their needs and afforded the same opportunities instead of one gender being unnecessarily put in the spotlight.

“Right person for the job, regardless of gender.”

Private Anri Kortenhoeven

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Private Anri Kortenhoeven, Ammunition Technician, says she has seen the Defence Force’s investment in women through watching her superiors making sure all available knowledge and opportunities are presented to her and others in her trade – read her story.

“My role is an Ammunition Technician. On an average day I help with inspections, returns and issues of the ammunition, with office tasks and administration. 

“I joined my trade in March 2023 after being asked if I would be interested, and said yes blindly but I have no regrets.

“I have seen the investment in women with the way the higher-ups in our trade make sure that every available knowledge and opportunity is presented to me both trade-wise and as a female.

“Being only a private, I look up to those limited numbers of females we have. Especially our female Warrant Officer, who has created a fair and equal ground within the unit long before I even considered joining, with a just way of doing the things that need to be done and an admirable amount of experience and knowledge. She is able to lead a male-strong trade and not get washed out by the stereotypes of what women should and shouldn’t do. She is strong and confident and is able to do what is needed for the sake of the people in our trade and the trade itself. I aim and aspire to fill her shoes one day.

“The male leaders in our trade are great mentors too. My sergeant is always making sure that all the available opportunities are presented to me.

Second Lieutenant Natasha Whyte

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As an engineer, Second Lieutenant Natasha Whyte says she is very proud to wear the uniform – read her story.

“I am the Apprentice Troop Commander at the School of Military Engineering, where I am looking after just under 60 carpenters, plumbers and electrical apprentices, working with a large body of senior non-commissioned officers.

“I joined the Army Reserve Force in 2018 (3/6 RNZIR) while studying Communication Design and Teaching at university.

“I come from a very outdoorsy, active family. I grew up hunting, fishing, tramping and doing plenty of sports. Triathlon is my main passion outside of my day job. Spending hours and hours of hard work to achieve a goal in the sporting world has shown me I can do the same within the military, and as a result I can continue to set a good example for my subordinates and perform well under physical and mental stressors.

“The military appealed to me for the challenge, greater sense of purpose and ability to make a difference to New Zealanders and our wider partners. Engineers particularly stood out as an opportunity to give back to New Zealand, and as a job where I would learn and be challenged every day.

“Having mentors and people to look up to in Defence has been a large indicator of my future progress and effectiveness within my team/unit. Seeing other women setting excellent examples sets the standard for others following in their footsteps, and gives me confidence in my own journey.

“I have noticed that my own leadership style, and that of women above me, can often be unique or different to our male counterparts in the same space. Emotional intelligence, altruistic tendencies, passion and drive of many females in Defence to meet and often exceed the standards set by male counterparts is incredibly inspiring.

“I’ve learnt that despite being a minority of those holding leadership positions in Defence, our contributions and leadership is important, valued and does positively affect those we work with. Many female leaders can certainly ‘flick a switch’, particularly out in the field to command in a more dominant manner when required, but I have learned that there are alternate effective ways to lead and care for our soldiers which comes more naturally for me.

“Being honest, open, professional and competent while truly caring for my subordinates has worked well.

“Setting standards like this and encouraging others to do the same creates safe working environments where team cohesion and individual empowerment is high.

“Defence has come a long way for not only women, but other minority groups within Defence. I do believe there is still room for development through research, engagement with serving/ex-serving personnel and education to continue to reap the benefits of having a diverse Defence Force.”