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Women eye up army

Dellah-Rose Thompson, left, and Jodi Taureka of Makoura College’s Services Academy. PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Erin Kavanagh-Hall

(On behalf of Makoura College)

Dellah-Rose Thompson and Jodi Taureka have a dream – to become the first women in their families to join the army.

And thanks to their being exposed to formal army drills, a boot camp style military induction, and the rigours of CrossFit training, all while still in Year 12, both pupils are well on the way to achieving their goals.

Dellah-Rose and Jodi, both 16, are members of Makoura College’s Services Academy – a programme designed to prepare senior pupils with the basic skills and disciplines for a career in the New Zealand Defence Force or first response services (police and fire service).

One of 29 such initiatives in secondary schools throughout the country, all supported by the defence force and the Ministry of Education, the Makoura Services Academy has catered mostly for young people who have struggled in the mainstream school system.

Using military-based training, pupilts learn transferable skills and core values, such as discipline, self-respect, teamwork, strong leadership and physical fitness, while gaining credits.

Traditionally, services academies (and the New Zealand military in general) have been male-dominated arenas. Presently, Dellah-Rose and Jodi are the only two girls in the Makoura academy, and the first female pupils to sign up in more than a year.

However, they have proven they can take on the boys in the weights room and even outlast some of them on an obstacle course – and want to show their classmates, families, and community that women belong in the military.

“Heaps of the men in our families have been in the military – but none of the girls,” Dellah-Rose said.

“We want to be the first females [in the family] to get into the army, and make everyone proud.

“And we want to show the girls they can do what they want if they put their mind to it.

“You don’t need to copy other girls and have a super girly career just because you feel like you have to.”

The girls’ first taste of military life started with a two-week induction course at Waiouru Army Camp, where they and pupils from other academies received intensive training from seasoned defence personnel.

There, they were put through their paces, physically and mentally, navigating confidence and high ropes courses, undertaking gruelling fitness tests, doing cross-country runs and drilling competitions, and learning the importance of immaculate presentation both of themselves and their barracks.

Pupils who did not perform to expectations were unable to continue with the service academy programme.

“You have to be pretty fit and, unfortunately, not everyone passed,” Jodi said.

“The course was pretty tough, but we got through it.”

Back at Makoura, the pupils spend nine hours a week with the academy, where they are schooled on military codes and standards, as well as honing their literacy, numeracy, and social skills.

Each morning, the academy will take part in a drill – which director Ben Johnstone says has been vital for instilling both self-discipline and pride in the pupils.

“With drilling, you have to be alert, obedient, and work as a team,” Johnstone said.

“To be an effective team, they all need to be reading off the same page.

“It also encourages them to take pride in their uniform and appearance.”

Another key part of the Makoura Services Academy is fitness, with Johnstone training the pupils in CrossFit, powerlifting, and Olympic weightlifting.

This regime, he says, is not just to prepare them for the military, but to improve their mental resilience and overall well-being.

The girls have excelled in this field, with Dellah-Rose and Jodi aiming to compete in the National Powerlifting Championship.

“They have the potential to set New Zealand records.

“Dellah, for example, can bench press 60kg, and deadlift 100kg – which is amazing for someone so small.

“They are great role models for their peers: strong women, inside and out.”

Once they graduate, Dellah-Rose hopes to be the first woman to work as an armourer with the New Zealand Army, while Jodi plans to join the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and earn enough to buy her family “a really cool house”.

Both young women say they have no trouble keeping up with the boys, and there’s “no sexism at all” within the academy.

“The boys are like our brothers – they have our back,” Jodi said.

“But we like to challenge them, and show them that, sometimes, the girls can do it better.”

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