There were few prouder graduates of New Entry Officers’ Course 63 (NEOC 63) than the parade flagbearer Midshipman Paula Ulakai, a former Boatswain’s Mate from Tonga who has a sentimental connection with the Australian White Ensign.
Midshipman Ulakai was studying at the Defence International Training Centre RAAF Williamtown on exchange earlier in the year when he received a call offering him a late-notice opportunity to join the July intake.
“Feeling honoured would be an understatement of how I felt to be a part of the Royal Australian Navy,” Midshipman Ulakai said.
While he found aspects of the course challenging, his story of the power of the Australian White Ensign made his role as flagbearer on graduation even more poignant.
“During Exercise DARDANELLES, I had to jump off the jetty. My hamstring cramped and I was in pain. I felt like giving up,” Midshipman Ulakai said.
“I looked up from the water and HMAS Gascoyne was berthing. I saw their flag and had that moment when I realised people had fought and died under that flag. It really made me push through the exercise.”
Midshipman Ulakai spoke highly of his NEOC experience, including the standard of training and strength of his team mates.
“This cohort is really close. I think it comes from COVID affecting our training and us being isolated together,” he said.
Midshipman Ulakai is not the first in his family to be drawn to Defence. His father Captain Sione Ulakai is the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff and Second in Charge to Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier General Lord Fielakepa.
Although his family could not attend due to COVID-19 restrictions, Midshipman Ulakai said they were very proud of his achievements and how far he had come.
Midshipman Ulakai will be moving forward in his career by attending Maritime Warfare Officer Course at HMAS Watson in the New Year.