15 October 2018
Logistics Specialist Corporal Laura Kjestrup found the hustle and bustle of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) humanitarian aid mission in Indonesia a far cry from the quiet farm life she knew while growing up in Wairarapa and Taranaki.
“I’m a classic farm girl,” she said. “I never imagined I’d be part of this intense, high-tempo and rewarding activity when I was in high school.”
One of 15 NZDF personnel sent to support the Indonesian Government’s relief effort, Corporal Kjestrup helped prepare pallets of aid and load them into a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130 Hercules aircraft for delivery to the quake-ravaged Indonesian city of Palu.
“It was all hands on deck. Everyone pitched in wherever they could,” she said. “Knowing that we were doing good and helping people in need motivated our entire team.”
Her job was to reverse a forklift carrying aid into the Hercules, aided only by hand signals from one of the Air Loadmasters.
The Indonesian soldiers and ground handlers were very eager to help and very friendly, she said.
“They were awesome to work with and thanked us for coming to help.”
Corporal Kjestrup also managed to learn some Indonesian phrases, surprising some of the survivors evacuated by the Hercules and the ground handlers they worked with at Balikpapan, the port city in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province where international aid operations were staged.
“During the first evacuation we did on 5 October, there was this Indonesian man and his son who got off our Herc and I greeted them with ‘selamat malam’ (good evening). I’ll never forget the delight on their faces when they heard me greet them in their language.”
Corporal Kjestrup joined the RNZAF in 2009, after taking a gap year following her graduation from Stratford High School in Taranaki.
“I was working in a solicitor’s office at the time, when I came across an RNZAF recruitment advertisement in a newspaper. It talked about opportunities to travel and play sport and sounded just like me, so I enlisted.”
She worked in the Administration unit in her first two years and shifted to Logistics in 2011. In March 2015 she went to Vanuatu to support the NZDF’s humanitarian aid and disaster relief operation in the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Pam.