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Pharmacist finds New Zealand Army Reserve Force just the tonic

When Alaa Al-Khaleefa moved to New Zealand from Iran at the age of 13, she was grateful to be able to live, learn and study in a safe environment.

12 May, 2023

Now, the Auckland pharmacist is giving back as a member of the New Zealand Army Reserve Force.

“This country is my home and I want to show my gratitude,” she said. 

Lieutenant Al-Khaleefa, who was born in Iran but comes from Iraqi heritage, said her interest in the Reserve Force was piqued while studying at pharmacy school, when she saw an advertisement for a pharmacist role in the New Zealand Army.

“I applied immediately. It meant I could combine my love for being active, outdoors and pharmacy together and do something different."

“I was, however, told to have a few years of experience in my field first before reapplying. I waited four years before going through the process again.”

In December 2021, Lieutenant Al-Khaleefa joined up as an Officer Cadet and completed the first part of her training. But when COVID-19 hit the Auckland region hard, the civilian pharmacy she was working for asked her to delay the rest of her training.

Not to be deterred, the 31-year-old found the time earlier this year to complete her Specialist Officer Induction Course in Waiouru and she graduated in April.

Pharmacists are an integral part of the New Zealand Defence Force’s health team. As well as carrying out pharmaceutical tasks, they receive military training such as physical training, learning navigation skills and how to handle weapons; and some have the opportunity to deploy overseas.

Outside of her career and newfound military life, Lieutenant Al-Khaleefa is a keen powerlifter and Brazilian jiu jitsu participant.

“I train up to four to five times a week, along with 5.30am boxing sessions with my partner. 

“It helped me find other Officer Cadet teammates who practice the same sport and that allows us to get together, train together and bond.

“Training jiu jitsu with other Officer Cadets also teaches us control and leading by example.”

Lieutenant Al-Khaleefa said the highlight of her Reserve Force training was definitely the support she received from the Officer Cadet School and fellow cadets while at Waiouru Military Camp.

“They have been open to learning about my culture, where I come from and how we can incorporate together to lead the next generation.

“I have felt at home and that I belong somewhere.”

Lieutenant Al-Khaleefa said she wanted to join the NZ Army to serve and protect this country.

She encouraged anyone to join up, who wanted to be part of a team, a family, or to have a purpose.

“The Army will work with you to bring out the best version of yourself and allow you to explore the areas you are most suitable for.”