With a Lancaster Bomber pilot for a grandfather and a father who served in the Navy it was only a matter of time before Karen Swift signed up to join the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) at the age of 16.
She said it was practically inevitable that she would join the military in some capacity, but it was the experiences she had during her nine years’ service which set her on a path of helping others for decades to come.
“I was so young when I enlisted but it was probably the best thing I ever did because during my early years I learnt a lot about myself and where my skills were which heled me as I moved careers and jobs over the years,” Mrs Swift said.
“I was posted to Gibraltar during the Falkland War which was an extraordinary experience as I was right in the middle where lots of action was taking place.
“As an admin clerk you were processing lots of documents and papers, but it felt really great to be able to contribute and serve your country at such a pivotal time.
“For me, looking back I was surrounded by friends and it was an adventure that really set me up for my future.”
Mrs Swift said she her experiences helped her develop confidence, leadership skills and a passion to help others.
“When I first enlisted, I was tapped on the shoulder to take part in more specialised leadership training,” she said.
“They actually had to get approval from my parents as I was so young but that was a really great opportunity for me which I am so glad happened.
“I developed strategic and critical thinking skills and these days I love being able to use them in the workplace when we look at creating new projects.
“It was such an important time in my life and to gain those critical life skills in an environment which supported personal growth opportunities was wonderful. I left the WRAF a changed person for the better.”
Mrs Swift emigrated to Australia in January 1995 with her husband and newborn sons and said she never looked back.
“After I left the WRAF I had a few different jobs including as an air hostess for British Airways and in the British aerospace industry and our move to Australia was just another great adventure.
“My strength is my people skills and having compassion for people and in each career change since I left the WRAF I have been in a position where I was on the front-line helping people.
“I think it is so special to help someone when they need it most and I am so grateful that I have been able to do that across a few different industries.
“I have worked in a few different places and each time for me it has been about building relationships which is something I love doing.”
Now working at catholic secondary college in Adelaide as a family accounts liaison officer Mrs Swift says she loves being able to support families and young people.
“For me being able to sit and talk to someone who is having a hard time or in need of help and being able to be that person who can help them or even just listen is so crucial for me.
“Over the last decade working at the school I have really enjoyed building those relationships and watching our community foster and support students.”
Mrs Swift said if she had her time again, she would have stayed in the WRAF and encourage people especially young people to consider a career in the military.
“If I had my time again, I would have stayed longer than nine years but at the time I was ready for my next adventure.
“Joining the military is not just about war and fighting it is about setting you on a course for life.
“When I was serving, I saw how it built people up to be the best version of themselves who can then go and do some much good in the world and I see that happening for my son as well.”
Mrs Swift’s story is part of an ongoing story telling series by Veterans SA. To read more stories of how those with military experience living in South Australia are contributing to our community click here.