Becoming an Officer
Through the years, I've been able to gauge the measure of a person by the reputation that precedes their presence. For this particular person, the song of praises that filled social media when news of her promotion broke out was truly a testament to her great personality, and her values. All her close friends revelled in her success, social media inundated with their congratulatory messages. I watched all this and was so taken by the remarkable good will and happiness that surrounded this moment. All I could gather was, Kelera was not only a friend, she was a powerful one. One that influenced the life of those around her with her goodness, kindness, great work ethic and love.
I am extremely fortunate to be able to get a little story on Kelera's life and what constitutes becoming, not only a female officer in the British Army, but the first, Fijian, female officer. In addition to this, Kelera has been commissioned alongside her husband which is also a first for us. Their success is one that teaches us the importance of supporting each other.
Kelera Heimoana Tiko, usually known by those close to her as "K" or Lela, is from Komo, Kabara in Lau, with maternal origins in Lawai, Nadroga. Brought up in Lami village on the outskirts of Suva, Kelera explains coming from very humble beginnings. I sent Kelera a few questions, and in trying to keep the essence of her story, I've decided to present it in a Q & A form. Amongst the wealth of things she shares with us in this piece, Kelera touches on the significance of her father in laying the foundations for the person she is today. She explains the importance of the support her and her husband have had for each other and also the gratitude she has for her family and marriage. Keleras story exudes sacrifice, hardwork and tenacity. She is a true example of getting what you want through sheer determination. I pray Keleras story blesses, teaches and motivates you like it has, me.
1. If possible, could you please give me some background information regarding your upbringing, education, work and family life? My father supported us, seven siblings (4 girls and 3 boys). He was a taxi driver and my mum sold handicrafts at the Handicraft Centre in Suva. My childhood was full of love and joy and even though we didn’t have much, we were very happy. My mum and dad worked very hard and wanted us all to have a good education because they didn’t want us to struggle like they did. My dad was only primary school educated, so you can imagine how important it was for him that he gave us a better opportunity in life. My parents taught us hard work and determination by the way they lived their lives. My dad was very adamant that we never forget our beginnings because by knowing where we started in life, we would not only appreciate what we have but we would also remain humble and grounded. I attended Veiuto Primary School and Suva Grammar School. Despite being offered a scholarship to attend USP after high schooI, I chose to study Electronics Engineering at FIT. I have always wanted to be an engineer from a young age. Whilst studying at FIT, I recruited to join the British Army.I joined the Army in 2000 into the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. In 2002 I graduated as the first Fijian Avionics Technician in the British Army. I have served in various different posts since, fixing an array of army equipment from helicopters, tanks, comms. radios and more. I have also worked as an Integrated Logistics Support Officer in procuring new equipment for the Army. I have a BSc (Hons) in Electronic Systems Engineering. 2. What was the main reason for your joining the army? I wanted to experience something different and I also wanted to travel. 3. How long have you been in the army and what has been the main challenge/challenges taking up a job of this nature? I’ve been in the Army for 19 years. The biggest challenge for me has been juggling family life with work and ensuring the balance is kept right. Being in the Army has challenges in itself but in my situation a wife and mum to four children is an added challenge. But I am thankful that God has given me a wonderful husband who has supported me wholeheartedly. My journey has definitely been a tag-team effort with my husband Viliamu. He’s been amazing and I am so thankful to God for him and my girls. 4. When you first came into the military, did you ever imagine being at the level you're on now? No, when I first joined the Army, I just wanted to enjoy myself on this new journey that I was experiencing. Never did I imagine that I would climb up the soldier rank from a Craftsman (equivalent to a private) to Warrant Officer Class 1 then to Captain in the time that I have and also getting married and having my girls. I am very thankful and grateful to God for that. 5. What has been your biggest driving factor? My biggest driving factor has always been my father. The way he started in life, from very humble beginnings to how he ended in life has always been an inspiration to me. He has taught me that it doesn’t matter where you start off in life. What matters is the hard work and determination that you put in that will determine your future. My dad was always full of advice for us siblings. If you ask my siblings, they would say the same. He would sit us down and go through his life story and sometimes we would hear the same things over and over but he wanted us to learn from his experiences. Since I left home to join the Army, I have always had one mission and that was to make my dad proud. I never wanted him to ever think that all the hard work he went through for me was wasted effort. Unfortunately, my dad passed away suddenly in 2017 but I’m sure if he was still here, he would have been very happy and proud of all that I’ve achieved. 6. Being a woman, has that had some sort of effect in your going up the ranks? Has it made it harder? No, I believe being a woman has had no effect in me going up the ranks. I am in a male dominated field in engineering but I have not considered myself different or wanted to be treated differently to my colleagues. 7. What do you think you've had to do differently to really prove yourself or what has made you stand out? In my eyes, I’ve not had to do anything different or needed to be different to stand out. I’ve just been myself and honest with all that I do. 8. Is the job demanding or strenuous? Yes, the job is physically and mentally demanding. I have a lot of respect and admiration for men and women in the Army. The higher up you go the more accountable you are for your actions. There are young soldiers looking up to you. In uniform or out of uniform you have a standard that must always be set and I take that very seriously. 9. What’s your idea of relaxation, or how do you unwind? I am a Seventh Day Adventist Christian and observing the sabbath rest is the way I recuperate after a busy week. Family time is very important to me as well, this is the basic foundation I believe I have to get right first. I try to spend every spare time I have with my family. As a family we love the outdoors, we spend a lot of time walking, camping and just being out in nature. 10. Can you explain how it feels going into this with your husband and in what ways has this impacted your lives? I have been very blessed to have gone through my army career with my husband. He understands me completely and has been with me through my highs and my lows. We have supported and helped each other on the commissioning selection just like we’ve done throughout our Army careers. 11. What’s your advice to young women and young adults everywhere, hoping to join or hoping to get to the level you're on now? If I had one advice to anyone wanting to join and anyone already in the Army, it would be to challenge yourself and come out of your comfort zone. You will not improve if you’re not willing to come out of your comfort zone.