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Sailor of the Year recognised in year of challenges

Leading Marine Technician (Propulsion) Jemma Hokai-Mataia has enjoyed both the challenges and diversity that come with being a sailor in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN).

24 November, 2021

Now, as the Sailor of the Year for 2021, she’ll be a voice for junior sailors and drive initiatives on their behalf.

She said the nomination and eventual award, announced this week, came out of the blue.

“It’s daunting, but I’m excited,” she said.

Each year the award is given to a junior sailor who takes action to make a significant and positive contribution to the RNZN and New Zealand Defence Force, and who personifies the core values of the service – Courage - Tū Kaha, Commitment - Tū Tika, Comradeship - Tū Tira and Integrity - Tū Maia.

Originally from Auckland, LMT(P) Hokai-Mataia joined the Navy in 2013, two weeks after her 17th birthday.

“My dad told me to get a trade, to have something to fall back on. I saw the Navy as a good opportunity to provide a trade, and my family was very supportive.

“I didn’t know much about marine engineering to begin with, but I thought the trade looked interesting when I read about it. I’ve really enjoyed my roles as a marine technician.”

After Basic Common Training and her trade training, she posted to HMNZS Canterbury and has been involved in humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions to the Pacific Islands.

Posting to the frigate HMNZS Te Kaha, she helped deliver the ship to Canada and did two postings in support of the ship’s Frigate Systems Upgrade.

She is currently operating as a Recruit Training School instructor for the Basic Common Trainees.

Her Sailor of the Year citation praised her work ethic with the recruits, describing her as an “exceptional leader….a passionate, well-respected and influential instructor, composed at all times”.

She said instructing was a good challenge.

“You learn a lot about yourself, and it challenges the way you think. I enjoy hearing different perspectives from others.”

Her biggest test in her career was similar to many others – COVID-19.

“There was a lot of uncertainty around COVID when we were on ship. But we were looked after pretty well. I’ve always had supportive people around me and I feel like any tests have been achievable because of the support I’ve had.”