At 44 years old, Warrant Officer Class Two Kelly Plaister has some gripping stories. Not only of her service and multiple overseas deployments, but about her personal life that may just leave a lump in your throat.

Currently posted to Victoria, Kelly speaks candidly about some of her experiences.

Kelly attempted to enlist in the Australian Army straight out of school, only to be met with the unexpected news that she needed an ankle reconstruction.

After taking some time out to travel and have her surgery, Kelly fulfilled her dream and enlisted on the 10 April 2001 aged 21. She said she hasn’t looked back since.

She laughed as she contemplated what drew her to serve, having hailed from New Zealand and with no family service history.

"To tell you the truth, it was probably about the adventure of joining the army and getting to do things that I wouldn’t normally do in my day-to-day civilian life."

Kelly Plaister

That’s all come true in her 23 years of service so far, as Kelly has been presented with opportunities she said she couldn’t have ever fathomed.

It’s often said how life-changing military service is, and in Kelly’s case that’s accurate.

From shifting her mindset about her career aspirations, to what family meant to her, service has changed her deeply.

Kelly met her life-partner Alex, whom she calls her wife, whilst they were both serving. Alex discharged in 2005, but the two have been together for 18 years, with plans to wed this year.

Many years prior to meeting, Kelly found out she was infertile and came to terms with the idea of never having, or wanting, children. But all that eventually changed and she and Alex navigated the path to parenthood. Alex carried their daughter Stella, now 12.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts to have another child, they pursued fostering and finally welcomed Austyn, now three, to their family at just five weeks old.

“Last year we got permanent care of him,” she said with a sense of joy and relief in her voice.

“This whole time we just never knew if he’d be taken away from us. In the first 10 seconds of having him he was our son,” Kelly said.

But with the good also came some challenges during her career.

Stella and Kelly.

“One: I’m a female; two: I’m Indigenous not to Australia but to New Zealand and that has some of its own little quirks and three: I’m a lesbian.”

She shared that in her early days in the army when she was posted to Townsville, far from her years in Sydney where Mardi Gras were part of the landscape, she was sometimes introduced as ‘The Lesbian.”

She’s pleased to say that in the past two decades, she’s seen concerted efforts made within Defence to become more inclusive and accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual (LGBTQIA+) community.

What’s proven to be one of Kelly’s biggest challenges was integrating motherhood into service life. Prior to Stella, Kelly deployed to Timor, Solomon Islands and Iraq for months at a time.

Her most difficult deployment though came in 2017, when she returned to Iraq, leaving behind not only Alex, but her then five-year-old daughter for eight-and-a-half months.

Kelly said her heart hurt.

"Yes, I wanted to be in Iraq doing what I was doing because it was awesome, but at the same time deploying as a mum was just so different and it knocked me, it knocked my mental health and I was just like ‘holy crap, I’m not dealing.’"

Kelly Plaister

She said her superiors were incredibly supportive and helped her work through it.

There have been times throughout her career that her relationship hung in the balance, but through communication and learning what works for their dynamic each time Kelly returned from a deployment has been beneficial.

Austyn on ANZAC Day.

Kelly recognises the crucial role Alex has played behind the scenes and is grateful for her support.

“Alex is the champion in this story. Without her, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have.”

And it’s clear that with that support, Kelly has a lot more to give.

"I will serve for as long as they will have me."

Kelly Plaister