Proud Kamilaroi woman and Ipswich resident, Pilot Officer Nicola Mitchell, is a trailblazer.
CAPTION: Award-winning Officer Training School graduate, Pilot Officer Nicola Mitchell. Story by Flight Lieutenant Julia Ravell.
In August, Pilot Officer Mitchell became the first successful applicant from the Air Force’s Indigenous Pathway to the Academy scheme to graduate from Officer Training School.
When she attends the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) next year to study a cyber security degree with a full scholarship, she will become the first member of her family to receive a tertiary education.
Pilot Officer Mitchell grew up in Moree but moved to Ipswich with her family because her parents wanted her and her two brothers to get an education.
She joined the Army in 2008 as a signaller electronic warfare operator because her grandfather had served in World War I and the ADF offered the opportunity to earn a trade and further her education.
After six years in the Army, Pilot Officer Mitchell joined the Air Force in 2014 as a leading aircraftwoman and progressed through the non-commissioned ranks to become a sergeant three years later.
When she heard about new cyber warfare roles available in the Air Force while working for the Defence School of Intelligence in Canungra, she realised progressing her career would require further study.
“My wife Clare is an air intelligence analyst in the Air Force, an equivalent position to my Army role, and moving to Air Force made sense so we could synchronise our postings,” Pilot Officer Mitchell said.
“But, these new cyber warfare roles all required that I had to be an officer and I had no tertiary education.
“I went into Officer Training School with an open mind.
“I thought I knew what I was getting into and that it’d be a lot easier than it actually turned out to be.
“Being away from your family for five months is harder when you’re older – it was like a deployment basically – and I knew I’d have to adapt to the physical training and fitness requirements because I set a high standard for myself so I could keep up with the younger trainees.”
Pilot Officer Mitchell did more than keep up.
On graduation in August, she received two awards for topping the class: the Military Qualities and Leadership Award as well as the Physical Training Instructor’s Award.
Commanding Officer Officer Training School Wing Commander Daniel Cassilles said Pilot Officer Mitchell was an outstanding student.
“Nicola was an exemplar for non-commissioned officers making the transition to officer,” Wing Commander Cassilles said.
“Beyond her noteworthy performance as a trainee, her personal development and commitment were highlights.
“In a tough training environment, she remained committed to her cause and was a role model for the rest of the course.”
Pilot Officer Mitchell said family support, both from home and among her new peers at Officer Training School, was vital to overcoming the challenges of training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Clare selflessly gave up our precious phone time to allow me to help others on the course, pushing me to do my best and help my new friends because she wanted me to set an example of how non-commissioned officers can succeed in the commissioned realm,” Pilot Officer Mitchell said.
“Learning to adapt to the military lifestyle – simple things like ironing your uniform properly and drill – can be quite stressful for young people who come across them for the first time.
“Because I had these skills already, I was able to help with extra sessions on the weekends and with their briefings and other assessments.
“Without the government and Air Force initiatives, I would never have thought I would commission, let alone excel on the course.
“I am a proud Indigenous woman and would like my experience to encourage other Indigenous members to apply for these schemes and help us not only bridge the education gap, but also contribute to the leadership of our Defence Force.
“Education is a lifelong process and it’s never too late to start.”