Army Officer Shares Experiences at Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Centre

LT COL Helen Cooper in Ghana
LT COL Helen Cooper in Ghana

16 December 2015

One of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) most experienced commanders recently taught students at the prestigious Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana on the impact females have on military operations.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Helen Cooper discussed the benefits females bring to peace and security operations when in leadership positions, and outlined the lessons she had learned as a female commander on operations.

"We talked about how to use the capability of women in operations. That is, how militaries can best employ the capabilities of female military personnel to achieve mission success – as one of their force multipliers,’’ LTCOL Cooper says.

In a combined NZDF and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade initiative, the NZDF sent two instructors to Ghana to teach a module as part of a Gender, Peace, and Security Master of Arts programme at the Centre.

Palmerston North-born LTCOL Cooper, who now lives in Wellington, and NZDF analyst Erica Dill-Russell also lectured on peace operations and conflict prevention at a Ghanaian university and spent a day teaching female officers from the Ghana Armed Forces.

During her career, LTCOL Cooper has been deployed a number of times including to Cambodia and East Timor. In 2011, she went to the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Lebanon as the Chief Military Observer, and was the first female to hold a command appointment at that level within the mission. Her work during the deployment earned her commendations from the United Nations and the Lebanese Government.

“Teaching at the Kofi Annan Centre was a fantastic opportunity to share some of my experiences and learnings from operations.

“My colleague Erica shared research that she had undertaken which showed women have far more to add to the success of military operations than previously realised.”

LTCOL Cooper went to Palmerston North Girls High School before studying at Massey University. While at Massey, she joined the Territorial Forces, and she enjoyed the work and the culture so much she transferred to the Regular Force.

“I encourage school students thinking about a career in the Defence Force to give it a go. You don’t need to stay and have a long career like I have, but there are opportunities and options that are not available in other organisations.’’

LTCOL Cooper rates her time in Lebanon as one of the highlights in her career so far. Another has been her time as Commanding Officer of the Youth Development Unit (YDU), which was set up by the Government in 2009 to provide support for at-risk youth.

“It’s very rare to be in a position where you see the direct impact of what you and your staff are doing to change the lives of young people, and I’m incredibly proud of the work the staff at YDU do,” says LTCOL Cooper.

New Zealand is second only to Sweden in the percentage of military women deployed to operations and overseas.


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This page was last reviewed on 16 December 2015.