South Auckland local Staff Sergeant Tokahaumata Oltaches-Tagavaitau has been named as New Zealand Army Soldier of the Year for 2020 and hopes she can pass her own inspiration on to Pasifika youth.
Staff Sergeant Oltaches-Tagavaitau, a member of the Royal NZ Army Logistics Regiment, who is currently deployed to the Sinai, was awarded the title via Zoom call by Chief of Army Major General John Boswell and Sergeant Major of the Army Warrant Officer Class One Wiremu Moffitt.
“Staff Sergeant Oltaches-Tagavaitau is an outstanding soldier in many fields; within her own trade, in training based roles, regimental roles, cultural development, and sport and sport management,” WO1 Moffitt said.
“She has added immense value in each of these areas during her career and has consistently demonstrated the ideal qualities of a soldier in the NZ Army.”
Staff Sergeant Oltaches-Tagavaitau had four goals in mind when choosing her career; How to avoid university without disappointing her parents, how to gain a qualification without a student loan, how to contribute financially to her home and to pursue a career that was outside the social norm.
“Fortunately I was able to participate in an Army Technical Trade work experience through school, and it was inevitable from that point on that the Army was going to tick all the boxes. Fifteen years on, here I am,” she said.
It was a journey she never regretted undertaking.
“My career has been unique and very rewarding. I have gained so many skills and incredible experiences. My time as a young soldier, sportswoman and leader within the organisation is challenging, but hands-down among my proudest achievements,” she said.
Representation and inspiration have driven Staff Sergeant Oltaches-Tagavaitau, particularly for Pasifika youth who may not have considered a career in the Army.
“My parents have always been in my ear, telling me over and over that the uniform I have chosen to wear is not a job or profession but more so my calling. I never understood them until now.
“The younger soldiers are my motivation. I believe that everyone deserves to be invested in. If my contribution to their growth and development as a soldier and a person can have a positive influence, and I continue to believe that it does, then God bless, every day is a great day.”
Staff Sergeant Oltaches-Tagavaitau is also taking part in the development of the NZ Army Pasifika Strategy - designed to improve cultural standing for serving Pacifika personnel and to set the conditions for enhanced operational effectiveness when NZDF deploys within the Pacific region.
“Soldier of the Year is a blessing and the rarest of opportunities to share my journey in the hopes to reach out and inspire, in particular Pasifika youth, to have courage and take a leap.
It means that girls ‘like me’ can see they are absolutely more than capable, and receiving this award is a testament to that. This is an incredibly overwhelming and very humbling experience.”