Sunday, May 21, 2006

From Catwalk to Parade Ground

From catwalk to parade ground

Saturday May 20, 2006
N Z Herald By Julie Middleton

Janette Ma says she doesn't feel like a trailblazer - although she is the New Zealand Army's only female officer cadet of Chinese ethnicity. And there's no doubt that she's the only Army staffer who is a former Miss Chinese New Zealand.

Ms Ma, 20, a full-time student in her third year of a five-year law and psychology degree at the University of Auckland, was drawn to a part-time Army role because she loves the outdoors and "wanted to do something exciting. And I thought it would be a great way to get overseas".

Her mother, beauty therapist Isabella To, was dismayed when her only child, who grew up in New Zealand from the age of 8, announced she wanted to enlist.

Ms To was worried about her daughter's safety, but didn't stand in her way: "She's got a good mind and she's very mature."

The seven weeks of Army basic training, says Ms Ma, were "definitely the toughest thing I have ever done in my life, but it was rewarding".

Earlier this year she passed the tests for officer training - which included a five-day assessment during which a psychologist studied everything she did.

Ms Ma relishes Army life - though it took a while for her petite 1.59cm, 55kg frame to adjust to a 25-30kg pack.

She admits, however, she is not really comfortable being in the spotlight, and confesses she entered Miss Chinese New Zealand in 2004 to please her mother.

"My mom and her friends thought it would be pretty exciting. Personally, I haven't wanted to be an entertainer."

They were all "shocked" when Ms Ma won, earning her a place at the Miss Chinese International in her native Hong Kong (she was unplaced).

Ms Ma, whose roots are in China's Guangdong province, is in the Third Auckland Northland Regiment, where her 11-member officer cadet platoon - she is the only woman - is named Gallipoli.

Army recruiters hope that Ms Ma's story will prompt other women and other Chinese to join: just 33 men and four women of its 4484 staff are of Asian descent - that's just 0.82 per cent. Six of them are officers, and the bulk are aged between 18 and 24.

Greater diversity is always desirable, says recruitment director Major Kate Lee, but no special campaigns are planned. "I think most organisations like to be ethnically diverse - it makes sense. You need to be representative of New Zealand."

Another trailblazer is Second Lieutenant Jeong Min Park, believed to be the country's first soldier of Korean ancestry.

Mr Park, who was raised in Wellington, where he gained a political science degree, has been in the Army for two years. He is serving in Bosnia on a United Nations mission.

• More by Julie Middleton
• Email Julie Middleton

No comments: