“Do what you love doing – you will make a difference”

Air Vice-Marshal Di Turton saw her first conflict zone as a flying officer in Somalia, 1993, deploying with Air Lift Group as part of an evacuation reconnaissance team.

CAPTIONAir Vice-Marshal Di Turton in Brussels, Belgium, where she is Australia’s first female military representative to NATO and the EU. Story by Captain Nicholas Marquis. Photo by Antje Devon.

Having graduated from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) just a few years prior, it was an eye-opening experience.

“It was my first time in Africa. Everything seemed black and burnt, and the poor living conditions of the people were confronting,” the now Air Vice-Marshal Turton said.

“The poverty was evident, and a curfew limited the freedom of the people – for families to be families. The experience helped me begin to understand why we choose to serve.”

Air Vice-Marshal Turton was born in India, where her father attended Indian Staff College as a Malaysian Army officer. When she was six months old, her family returned to Malaysia and in 1984 migrated to Australia, settling in Brisbane.

Originally enlisting in the Army, she completed three years at the academy and, the day before graduation, transferred to Air Force.

Air Force Intelligence had just opened to ADFA graduates and, given her interest in international relations and military technology, the decision was easy.

Fast forward 30 years, Air Vice-Marshal Turton is the first Air Force intelligence officer to reach two-star in a category that had a ceiling rank of wing commander when she joined.

On her promotion to Air Vice-Marshal, Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman, a fellow ADFA classmate of the class of 1991, welcomed her into the Air Force senior leadership team.

Over the past 30-plus years, Air Vice-Marshal Turton has noticed significant changes in this group.

“Today’s senior leadership is a lot more diverse, with so many more categories represented,” she said.

Ascending through the ranks was not something she focused on as a junior officer. Rather, her intent has always been to serve in roles where she could make a difference and which she would enjoy.

“I joined the ADF at a time when maintaining extensive careers for women was challenging,” Air Vice-Marshal Turton said.

These challenges included moving often and extended time away from home.

This year, the mother of two has become Australia’s first female military representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union in Brussels.

While not a NATO ally, Australia holds preferred partner status within the organisation.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to represent Australia and to play a role in reinforcing Australia’s commitment to be an effective global partner,” Air Vice-Marshal Turton said.

“I am extremely humbled to be selected but also very excited and feel so privileged to be given the opportunity to gain insights into the military and national security environment within NATO.”

With neighbouring countries a short train ride away, Air Force’s newest star rank is excited to explore their diversity while settling into her new role.

The move to Brussels has involved swapping life on the farm in Sutton, outside the ACT, with her alpacas to a bustling European streetscape – with the promise of new cultures, cuisines and experiences.

Her introduction into the role has been a busy one with the first week including a Chief of the Defence Force visit to attend the NATO Military Committee and a visit from the RAAF E-7A based in Germany to Brussels.

Looking back on her career, Air Vice-Marshal Turton said she would not be where she is today without the support of the many people she has worked with and her family.

“I have been truly blessed with the people I have worked with over the years; their professionalism, strong work ethic, passion and dedication to making a difference, are second to none,” she said.

Air Vice-Marshal Turton considered what advice she would give an officer cadet today.

“Do what you love doing, because if you enjoy doing it, you will do it well and you will make a difference,” she said.


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