Lieutenant Colonel Karyn Te Moana reckons her most dangerous assignment was in East Timor. In 1999, Lt Col Te Moana, who now heads the communications, computers and electronic warfare capability management team of the NZ Army, was in the first landing of Kiwi troops in Dili. They were surrounded by burning buildings, the militia were still firing, and the residents were hiding in the hills. “We really did rely on each other to watch each other’s back,” she says. “We worked very long hours trying to set up places to live, secure the environment for the local people to come back down and start their lives again, [and] set up the communications system.”
Dangerous as this deployment was, her toughest assignment came in 2001, when she commanded a Signal Squadron of 130 people. In the next two years she gave birth to her two sons. She worked right up until the day she gave birth to both boys, now aged three and four.
The unit was “physically very active” so the members were always out in the field, and doing physical training everyday. “This tested my leadership mettle, particularly setting an example, when [I was] heavily pregnant and physically very tired.” She managed the situation by limiting her physical workload towards the end of her pregnancy. Until then, Lt Te Moana says she has not seen an army officer command a unit while pregnant.
She continued to push the boundaries, even shatter stereotypes, post-pregnancy. “When I returned to full-time work after having my children, I took it upon myself to ensure that I was fit enough to pass my fitness test to the same level that I demanded of the rest of my organisation,” says Lt Col Te Moana, who can now smile as she recalls those times.
“It is all about leading by example.” The dictum, she says, is one of the 10 principles of leadership behaviour in the New Zealand Army. These principles have withstood the test of time and comprise “the best advice on leadership” she has ever received.
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