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Selwyn woman’s decades of loyalty and passion recognised with NZDF civilian gold award

When Springston’s Tania Lutton joined the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) in 1985, she didn’t have a lot of experience under her belt - and for the first six months not much in the way of pay cheques either.

22 February, 2024

Fast forward nearly four decades and the former Commonwealth Games athlete who now leads the organisation’s human resources team in the South Island, was recently awarded the Gold Civilian Recognition of Service badge. 

The award is given to civilian personnel who have 30 years of cumulative service with the NZDF. 

Originally from Ross on the West Coast, Ms Lutton moved to Christchurch as a child and attended Mairehau High School.

Her career with the NZDF began as a mail clerk in the registry, which she said was a great place to learn the organisational structure.

There was just one sizeable hiccup.

“After the first six months of working for the NZDF I still hadn’t been paid. As a timid 16-year-old I was too frightened to go and ask the payroll lady where my pay was,” Ms Lutton said.

“After finally plucking up the courage and asking her where my pay was she told me I hadn’t provided my birth certificate. But after telling her I had done this, she checked my file and next minute a big cheque was written out for a portion of my wages and I had to be escorted down to the bank to cash it in.”

The rest of her wages came through on the following pay day.

Shortly afterwards, she accepted a role in the payroll department and within 20 years she had become the subject matter expert for the NZDF on all civilian payroll matters.

Over the years, Ms Lutton has turned her hand to many different jobs with the NZDF.

She said going from starting in registry at the entry level grading, to eventually become human resources manager has been one of her greatest work achievements. 

“I made it my mission that no one would have to endure what I did, and I became quite the stickler for inductions and ensuring that I had an open door policy for employees to query and discuss their employment and pay issues,” she said. 

In the last 39 years there have been significant changes within the organisation and the way it operates in the human resources space, Ms Lutton said. 

I have witnessed manual pay systems to computer-based pay systems, fax to email, the introduction of computers into normal work place routines, and now laptops and iPads. 

“The introduction of cell phones was a big one. We now can’t live without them.” 

Outside of her work, Ms Lutton has achieved success as a shotput and discus athlete, with a sporting career spanning more than 20 years.

She represented New Zealand at the 1998 Commonwealth Games where she came fifth in shotput, at the 1990 Oceania Games she came first in shotput and second in discus, at the 1998 IAAF World Cup she placed seventh in shotput, and she has been a New Zealand and Australasian champion.

As to the question of what has kept her working for the NZDF all this time, the answer is simple. 

“For me it comes down to loyalty, lifestyle and passion for the organisation, and the work I do in HR. 

“Working for the NZDF is like working with family, and just like with every family there are the odd challenging family member, but that makes it interesting.

“The NZDF has always encouraged and supported me with my sporting and work career and quite honestly I haven’t seen another employer that can offer the same care of their people.”

Ms Lutton said receiving the Gold Civilian Recognition badge meant a lot to her.

It is true that time flies when you are having fun, I have certainly had some fun working here over my nearly 39 years.

“I am so grateful to my Mum who dragged me along to apply for the position all those years ago. 

“If it wasn’t for her I could have become a herd tester, until I found out what that actually involved and went off the idea very quickly.”

Three recognition badges of Gold, Silver and Bronze are awarded to civilian NZDF staff members based on the length of their cumulative service, and aim to celebrate their commitment and significant contribution to the organisation.