Vietnamese refugee gives back as naval officer
Darlene Blakeley, RCN Public Affairs – Lookout
Lieutenant-Commander Kim Poirrier, a logistics officer with the Directorate of Naval Strategy in Ottawa, credits the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for shaping her into the strong and independent woman she is today.
“My journey in the CAF as a naval officer has opened doors for me,” she says. “I have a great sense of pride in wearing my uniform, not only for my own achievements, but also for what my uniform represents.”
LCdr Poirrier was eight years old when the communist regime of the day began to persecute the ethnic Chinese entrepreneurial class in the former South Vietnam. Her family was resettled into a detention camp along with other wealthy Chinese business families, to work and farm the land.
“This was a life sentence,” LCdr Poirrier explains. “My father had to make the most difficult decision of his life – risk the lives of his wife and nine children to escape, or stay and risk starvation and even worse.”
The family survived near-death experiences during the escape. They finally arrived in Malaysia, where they joined other refugees waiting for immigration officials from Western nations to offer sponsorship. After a few months, they were accepted by Canada, with the sponsorship of the Assumption Parish Catholic Church in St. Walburg, Sask., a town of 500.
Having been given a fresh opportunity, LCdr Poirrier wanted to give back to her adopted country. “To truly appreciate this privilege is to give back,” she says.
LCdr Poirrier decided to join the Naval Reserve in 1991, and later went on to join the Regular Force navy. She has deployed on humanitarian missions, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, worked on multimillion dollar capital projects as a senior cost analyst, and provided logistics support to overseas missions.
As a volunteer, LCdr Poirrier has worked with the Salvation Army, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, food banks and women’s shelters. She regularly takes part in speaking events, including Asian heritage celebrations, Canadian citizenship ceremonies, and recruiting initiatives.
She is particularly active in promoting minority and cultural issues, as well as issues that affect women. “I am passionate about women’s issues and promoting gender equality. I want to be a role model for my kids, and also the younger women who seek my mentorship,” she says.
Her deployment to Afghanistan gave her a deeper understanding of the plight of women in certain cultures. In the future, she hopes to represent the CAF by participating in a United Nations initiative to increase women’s contributions to peace and security.
LCdr Poirrier highly recommends the military as a career choice for women looking for challenges and adventure.
“Life does not always turn out as planned, but it is what you learn from it and do with it that will make you who you are today,” she says. “Whether you decide to join the CAF or not, as a proud Canadian and as a woman, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities available to all of us in Canada and take bold action toward achieving your dreams.”
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