Women take the helm


‘‘I wanted to be an A-14 fighter pi­lot’’

Lieutenant Com­man­der Lorna Gray gets sea­sick.

‘‘It can be tor­ture,’’ she said: ironic, given Gray has just been made the first fe­male Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of a Royal New Zealand Navy war­ship, the HMNZS Otago.

Thirty years ago women were for­bid­den to board naval ships – now they’re at the helm.

But gen­der doesn’t come into it for Gray: it’s about knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, she said. And she has both in spades.

The 34-year-old joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2005, and has worked as a war­fare of­fi­cer on board HMNZS Wakakura, HMNZS Manawanui and HMNZS Te Kaha.

She has com­pleted nu­mer­ous de­ploy­ments in the Pa­cific and South East Asia re­gions, and two six-month tours of duty as a UN mil­i­tary observer in Syria and Le­banon.

Be­ing made com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the HMNZS Otago was a home­com­ing of sorts for the Taieri Plains na­tive.

Hav­ing climbed the ranks as a war­fare of­fi­cer, she knew be­com­ing com­mand­ing of­fi­cer was a pos­si­bil­ity - but said it wasn’t some­thing she had ex­pected.

Gray en­listed at 22, af­ter com­plet­ing an honours de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and English at the Uni­ver­sity of Otago.

There was ‘‘no pull to the Navy at all’’ – Gray said she thought she would end up work­ing in diplo­macy or pol­icy anal­y­sis.

The only time she had con­sid­ered a ca­reer in the mil­i­tary was when she saw Top Gun at 12 years old.

‘‘I wanted to be an A-14 fighter pi­lot.

‘‘But then my dad told me we didn’t have A-14s in New Zealand, so there went that idea,’’ she said.

She for­got all about that dream, un­til one year she went to War­birds over Wanaka with her fam­ily.

The Navy re­cruit­ing bus was there.

‘‘The only rea­son I went in was to get out of the rain,’’ she said.

‘‘If the sky hadn’t opened at that mo­ment just as I was walk­ing past the re­cruit­ing bus I prob­a­bly never would have joined the Navy.’’

Twelve years on, that thought was ‘‘pretty crazy’’.

Just last week she was in ‘‘a desk job of sorts’’, ad­vis­ing other ships in her role as an above wa­ter war­fare ex­pert.

Now she’s back at sea.

The team on board the HMNZS Otago are cur­rently pre­par­ing to de­ploy to the Pa­cific Is­lands for fish­eries pa­trol.

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