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RNZAF 85: Flight Sergeant Kim Harrison

Served 2001 - current
Working in military intelligence isn’t much like a John Le Carré novel. Sometimes it’s borrowing a kid’s bike to ride around an earthquake damaged town getting as much information about the area as possible.

08 April, 2022

Flight Sergeant (F/S) Kim Harrison was one of the first non-commissioned officers to join the Intelligence trade – but she didn’t quite know what she was getting into.

“You hear the word intelligence and you think super spy stuff – but you don’t really know what it is. So I asked my Sergeant if I could go and sit with the teams who were doing the work, for a couple of days. I basically walked into the geospatial area, saw what they did and thought, that’s what I want to do. It seemed to be a good fit for me.”

The unit comes into their own during events like natural disasters. They analyse images sent from an Air Force aircraft and provide information that will tell the appropriate agency or government where help is needed most urgently. They add metadata to the imagery, such as geo-referencing information, which links the image to its location on Earth, before sending it to Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand (HQJFNZ).

F/S Harrison now runs the section and over the past 10 years has seen it evolve.

“Our specialist training largely hasn’t changed – we still do a basic course in Canada after the basic course in New Zealand and we do specialist courses when we can, but we moved the way we do things with the platform changes and with our customer needs.”

Her career has taken “a pretty interesting path”, including a two-year posting to Geospatial New Zealand. F/S Harrison has also been deployed to Afghanistan, Australia and the Middle East, along with joining multiple missions with the deployable taskforce. 

“My highlight has been the people I’ve met along the way. For every experience you have, good or bad, it teaches you something about yourself and what you can do. I think the people have been the best part.”

Describing her role can be challenging because of the security constraints, but F/S Harrison has worked out a unique description.

“Sometimes when people ask me what I do, I tell them some days I’m the circus ringmaster, some days I’m the elephant in the room. It’s definitely a job where if we do it right, nothing goes wrong and there are no surprises in your day.”

Working in areas where natural disasters had struck showcased F/S Harrison’s ability to be flexible in her work. In the aftermath of the Kaikoura earthquake she was part of the team that established the Defence Force’s presence in the town.

“We flew down there and there was a guy about to get onto a private plane to fly out. So we asked what he was doing with his rental car. He said he was just going to leave it there, so we asked for the keys to that.”

Her job was to establish what the team needed in the emergency operations centre and what was already there that could be utilised.

“One of the first things I was trying to do was to sort out what information people had and didn’t have and capturing that on a glass window, because we didn’t have anything to write on. The window would flex with the aftershocks that came through. 

“I have a distinct memory of biking around Kaikoura on some little kid’s BMX that he let me borrow in exchange for a ration pack, to try to find maps of the local area and of local services and the police who were there. That was pretty funny,” she said.

“My career to date has been a pretty cool start. And I say that because my career may not end in the Air Force, it may keep going into other things. It’s been pretty good – I’ve enjoyed the ride and I’ll stay on it for a while longer yet.”