A model for these times

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‘I Want To Be A Postive Influence On Younger Generations’

One of the things that Simranpreet Kaur Wadhawan talks about growing up in Perth is her love for sports. In a way it helped her build confidence, says Wadhawan, who is perhaps the first Sikh girl to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This January, Wadhawan was officially welcomed into the RAAF at a ceremony in Perth. She received an initial three-week training and now she is undertaking her studies at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra for three years, after the completion of which she hopes to undertake a leadership role within the RAAF. Wadhawan says she wants to be a positive influence on young generations and believes developing her Sikh values over time, especially the service to country, has been the most important and stood her good stead. In an exclusive interview with The Indian Weekly, Wadhawan talks about her life and aspirations.
First of all, tell us a bit about your background and growing up in Perth.
I moved to Australia when I was eight years old, and have been living in Perth since then. Growing up, I loved to play sports, particularly netball and tennis. As well as competing with other netball clubs, I joined the Perth Sikh Swans Netball Team where we got the opportunity to compete across states during the Australian Sikh Games. I also loved volunteering growing up and I have been part of debating teams, advisory groups, and youth council groups. These groups helped me build confidence in myself and improved my organisational skills.

What inspired you to join the Royal Australian Air Force?
I wanted to join the Royal Australian Air Force as I did not want a mainstream career. My strengths lay in my self-confidence and communication skills. As I was heavily involved in community work for many years, including other leadership activities, I wanted to do something that would reinforce that, and also make everyone proud of me. I wanted to be a positive influence on young generations. I have wanted to join since I was 12, so six years now.

What kind of preparation and training did you undergo for this?
I concentrated on my physical training the most prior to joining. This included long runs during the morning, sit ups and push ups mainly. I concentrated on weight training and cardio during my gym sessions. Personally, my preparation entailed building my confidence through the groups I participated in. I took part in as many public speeches as I could so that I could to get comfortable talking in public.

What is the biggest professional challenge now?
The biggest professional challenge for me now is ensuring that I am continually learning about my responsibilities and what hardships I can face once my training has concluded. I want to ensure that I can develop my skills to deal with a difficult work situation to the best of my abilities.

What is the favourite part of your job?
I haven’t started my job yet, but I am definitely looking forward to it. During my training, I enjoy the daily opportunity to learn and being around highly ranked and professional leaders who are always there to guide, whenever the need may be. Their past experiences have also helped me understand the future prospects I can look forward to. I enjoy the discipline and the professional behavior in which we all conduct ourselves as trainee officers.

What experiences have you gained so far that you would like to share with our young readers?
The Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) has developed my character through various military and leadership experiences. Learning that everyone has their own individual style of leadership, which are shaped by your world view. Being able to see the latest technological equipment, learning how to manage tasks and improving my communication skills have shaped some of my early experiences.

What advice would you give to another youngster who may be considering joining the RAAF?
It is an absolutely great opportunity for those looking for a secured future. You get paid to study and once trained there are opportunities to deploy around the world. I would advise people joining to make sure that they have fully researched their jobs and made sure they are applying for the role they are most interested in.

What would you want our readers to know about the RAAF in general?
Many opportunities for various areas are available in the RAAF, including medical, logistics, and administration. Men and women from all different backgrounds work together, therefore the workplace is very diverse. Everyone is very supportive of each other, which is the best part of working with the Defence Force.

What personal traits do you have that have helped you the most to become such a young cadet?
Personally, I believe exploring new options and not settling with the mainstream choices has helped me the most. The curiosity about my job role helped ensure I was on my feet and ready to explore other options available. My confidence has helped me the most, especially throughout the recruiting process. I was lucky as I was aware of what I wanted to do while I was very young. Staying focused on that goal has helped me become a young cadet.

Where does your Sikh values and Indian background fit into the equation?
Developing the Sikh values over time, especially the service to country has been the most important for me until now. Sikhs have had a rich military tradition, and have always been committed to serve the country in order to protect the oppressed at any time needed. This value was particularly imbedded in me, every time I visited the Gurudwara. The community service while preparing for the langar (communal meal), the selfless service while volunteering and sharing a meal together with everyone have nourished my character. This sense of community was also influenced by the Indian background I have had growing up as there has always been a sense of belonging, no matter who you communicate with.

I believe it is very important for the Sikh and Indian community to get more representations in roles such as this around Australia. It helps others become more aware about your religion and culture and help make the environment more multicultural and diversified. Being in such roles helps create global awareness, which makes people more informed and helps them unite by having an understanding of the values and beliefs. It plays a major role in influencing other young generations of our community to aim high and achieve their dreams.

What are the essential ingredients of leadership and success?
For me, success is about having the patience and the ability to learn from others. The main ingredients for leadership are integrity, communication with your peers and knowledge about your job.

(As told to The Indian Weekly)