Leading the way in a damaged country

Lieutenant-colonel Lisa Kelliher talks to children during a visit to the Bor in eastern South...
Lieutenant-colonel Lisa Kelliher talks to children during a visit to the Bor in eastern South Sudan. Photo: Supplied
An Alexandra woman helping lead a United Nations mission in South Sudan says it is sad to see the beauty of the country marred by continuing violence.

Lieutenant-colonel Lisa Kelliher is serving as an operations leader for the United Nations mission in the world’s youngest nation.

The African country is facing the prospect of famine for the second year in a row.

In her role as deputy chief force headquarters operational plans officer, Lt-col Kelliher plans for contingencies, operational requirements and engagement across sections of the UN mission.

She said South Sudan had "beautiful" landscapes but was hurt by its division and conflict.

"Unfortunately, the beauty of the country is marred by the continuing violence and the signs of conflict are visible in many areas."

Lt-col Kelliher first dreamed of joining the New Zealand Defence Force while at Dunstan High School in Alexandra.

She applied to study accounting and mathematics at the University of Otago but that all changed after a conversation with a classmate.

"A classmate was on his way to sit a test to join the [force] and asked me to come along. I thought, ‘why not?’."

That test changed her life and set her on her way to the top ranks of the force.

Before her South Sudan posting, Lt-col Kelliher was personal staff officer to former defence force chief Lieutenant-general Tim Keating.

She was brought up at her family’s sheep and beef farm near Alexandra by parents George and Daphne.

Her older brother Gary Kelliher, who now runs the family farm, said his sister was "naturally well-suited" to the military.

"We respect it’s a dangerous role, she can’t tell us much about what she is doing."

Lt-col Kelliher spent a lot of her time overseas and lives in Wellington, but usually returned to the family farm near Alexandra once a year, Mr Kelliher said.

"...when she returns home she tends to go out and about on the farm," he said.

"The family are very proud of what she’s achieved and what she’s done for the country."

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