By Flight Lieutenant Rebecca English

Valuing collective difference and promoting unity in diversity has been an enduring hallmark of Squadron Leader Epeli Naivalu’s remarkable Air Force career.

Born in Fiji and raised as a proud indigenous Taukei ie man, Squadron Leader Naivalu has extensive lived experience of diversity, actively supporting closer ties between Australian and Fijian military forces and communities throughout his nearly 30 years in Air Force.

Joining Air Force in 1996, Squadron Leader Naivalu has deployed to ten operations across the Middle East and Asia Pacific region, and was the first Airfield Engineer to deploy on six overseas missions.

Squadron Leader Naivalu says one of the aspects he values most about his Air Force work is the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and experiences, and bring together a team.

“On deployment as an Executive Officer in the Middle East in 2004 during my fourth overseas operation, I was faced with a young leadership group, where some members were deploying overseas for the first time,” said Squadron Leader Naivalu.

“Mentoring became a heavy focus both for the leadership team and rest of the unit as I steered the diverse group, tapping into the strengths of each and the collective diversity to achieve our mission.”

Squadron Leader Naivalu believes one of the key benefits of workplace diversity are the educational and personal growth opportunities stemming from collective richness and diverse thinking.

“I love the opportunity to ensure that no one is left behind, that everyone feels comfortable and we have a cohesive work unit, where members look forward to come to work every day, and happy to go home having put in an honest day’s work in a diverse and accepting workplace,” said Squadron Leader Naivalu.

Squadron Leader Naivalu applauds Air Force’s recognition of culturally and linguistically diverse members and what they bring to the workforce.

“You can be proud of your own background while being respectful and accepting those who have different attributes to you, whether it be background, thinking, personality, religion, politics, age or experience,” said Squadron Leader Naivalu.

Squadron Leader Naivalu has served as a linguist and organiser for many Australia-Fiji military and community engagement activities throughout his career, including leading ADF attendance at the 2018 Fiji Independence Day celebrations in Sydney and hosting Fijian rugby teams for educational tours of RAAF Base Richmond.

Squadron Leader Naivalu also deployed to Fiji in 2019 to promote a cultural exchange opportunity for C-130J Hercules aircrew and Republic of Fiji Military Forces soldiers, and supports Fijian military police students when they come to study at the Defence Force School of Policing at Holsworthy Barracks.

Reflecting on two decades as a senior officer, Squadron Leader Naivalu still remembers the sense of pride the first day he put on his uniform.

“I felt a sense of pride, achievement and relished the opportunity to show what I can give to the service, not what I can get from the service. This work philosophy has endured throughout my permanent and reserves service where I can still continue to give to the RAAF in my 20th year as a Squadron Leader.”

Squadron Leader Naivalu has served in the Air Force Reserves for last 16 years and is currently a Facilities Projects Officer in the Air Force Cadets 3 Wing.

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