Native Affairs: Māori Soldier Wins NZDF Person of the Year

By Carmen Parahi

Army chef Lance Corporal Amber-Lee Nui was today named NZDF Person of the Year.

The 23-year old has been in the army for the past four years and is based at Linton, where she’s the shift manager in the camp mess. “I got a call yesterday from the Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating,” she says laughing. “I just couldn’t believe it, I was pretty speechless. I was in shock.”

Lieutenant General Keating says, “Lance Corporal Nui has made living the Defence Force values and displaying high standards a hallmark of her career and she is a worthy recipient of the NZDF Person of the Year Award.”

Nui has five brothers who all grew up in Waipukurau but comes from Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Ruanui. Her older brother encouraged her to join him in the army. “My whānau are just really proud, all thanks to my mum and dad for making me who I am.”

She was also named the inaugural Soldier of the Year, winning her category to then pick up the top award. “My partner was real excited, he’s in the navy.”

Nui has just one more 3-4 month course to go to qualify for her City & Guilds, admitting why she chose to learn cooking as a trade in the army. “I couldn’t cook. So, I thought that’d be the best thing for me to do.”

Nui concedes some may be surprised a chef won the soldier of the year award and the top NZDF award. “Primarily, it doesn’t matter what your trade is. You’re trained to be a soldier first, based around key ethos and values, courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity. They just based the whole award around the quality of a soldier.”

Platoon Commander Second Lieutenant Zara Houpapa says, “One of the reasons LCPL Nui is so successful is her personality. Her can-do attitude creates an environment where excellence is achieved.

Nui was deployed for the first time this year to Fiji for two months to help with the Cyclone Winston rebuild. “I was deployed with another chef onto the Canterbury. We were there for two months supplying food for the ship's company, embarked forces and guests. I worked alongside the navy chefs which was awesome.” Although she admits they did compete in the bulk. “A bit of banter here and there, it’s all friendly.”

“Once every week I was allowed on land. We went onshore to help, clearing rubbish, assisting the engineers as well. Their army worked with ours. It was cool meeting them and they stayed on board.”

She then went to Crete as part of the ceremonial team for the NZDF’s 75th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Crete. “That was amazing, truly a great opportunity. The people were really lovely they welcomed us with open arms, they felt like another whānau.”

But Nui says she loves her work at Linton. “Mostly all the Pacific and Māori soldiers like boilups and a really good steak.” They provide meals for hundreds of people, three times a day.

Although an accomplished chef, she knows her place in the wharekai at her two marae, Tu Auau in Ruatoria and Wai-O-Turi in Taranaki. “I would never try and take the aunties place in the whare kai, that’s a no-no. I know my place it’s definitely washing the dishes.”

When asked how she would manage if deployed to a war zone, Nui replied, “You join the military to take the risk. If it comes to it then yup I’ll be happy to do it for us, do it for our country.”