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.