Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Midshipman Hannah Larsen is learning how military operations work, and at 19 could be the youngest-ever staff member at the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Joint Forces Headquarters.
Midshipman Larsen was 10 weeks' shy of her first birthday when Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand (HQJFNZ) was established in July 2001. The headquarters prepares, deploys, commands and supports NZDF operations in New Zealand and around the world.
"Around this time last year I was still in high school, sitting exams and playing hockey," Midshipman Larsen said.
She has been working with the planning team at HQJFNZ and although she has been working at the headquarters for only a few months, the experience has already affirmed her decision to join the military.
"I was assigned here to learn about how NZDF operations are planned, supported and managed," she said.
"My experience here so far has reinforced that I want to be part of the RNZN and NZDF."
A graduate of New Plymouth Girls' High School, Midshipman Larsen applied to join the RNZN after a career roadshow at her school.
"Some of my family members were initially a bit unsure whether a navy career was right for me, but now I have their complete support," she said.
After passing the fitness and medical tests and interviews, Midshipman Larsen was offered a scholarship under the RNZN's Tangaroa scheme. In February she will begin a four-year degree in engineering majoring in mechatronics at Massey University in Auckland.
"Maths, science and English were my favourite subjects in high school, and it's the maths side of the degree that appealed to me," Midshipman Larsen said.
This is clearly a family strength, with Midshipman Larsen's two older sisters also studying engineering.
A keen hockey player, she is relishing the opportunity to represent the RNZN. This year she was named the RNZN's Most Promising Player and was selected in the NZDF women's team, which played at the senior national women's tournament in September.
Midshipman Larsen was among NZDF personnel who helped the Department of Conservation with the clean-up recently in Westland after the Fox River flooded and rubbish from an old landfill spread to river banks and the coastline.
"The amount of rubbish and pollution was horrifying, yet it was amazing to see the NZDF personnel working alongside civilian volunteers to protect our environment," she said.
She has also been away on exercise recently in Marlborough, where RNZAF No. 6 Squadron, which flies the RNZN's Seasprite helicopters, carried out mountain-flying training designed to familiarise Seasprite crews in high-altitude flying and cold-weather operations.
"Prior to this exercise I had only ever really experienced each Service in their individual exercises, so going on an exercise where the squadron consisted of both RNZN and RNZAF personnel was a real eye opener. Plus flying through and landing on top of mountains is always exciting," she said.
Midshipman Larsen is looking forward to what lies ahead.
"The NZDF offers lots of exciting opportunities and I cannot wait to see what else the future holds," she said.