From Fiji Times Online (19 April 2009)

Way of the army

By Geraldine Panapasa

Army life has helped him become an independent and responsible person and if there is one thing that makes Nikola Low unique, he says it's his patriotic heart.

The 22-year old Juju lad from Rotuma is a British Army private in the Parachute Regiment. Second in a family of five, Nikola wanted to be a soldier when he was younger because of the opportunity to travel and explore the outside world.

"I got to travel to places I've never been before and it's also very adventurous. The idea to join the army started when I realized finding a good job wasn't very easy," Nikola said.

"Plus, my parents were getting close to the age of retirement and that someone had to step up and continue what they were doing, paying for the house bills, food and so on."

He attended primary school at Stella Maris before completing his secondary education at Gospel High and Marist Brothers in Suva.

He went on to study Sports Science at the Fiji Institute of Technology and on March 18 last year, he joined the British Army.

Nikola said the local lads in the army would get together during special occasions.

"Some would do a lovo, some would sit around the tanoa and some would participate in a sports day," he said.

"But when I'm away, I really miss home especially when there's a lot at hand to do at work and times when you are stressed out.

"That's when I really miss home and that's why when I get the chance to come over, I take it.

"Enjoying the sunshine and everything about home, it's just like the saying there's no place like home."

He is specialised in parachuting and the only challenge he faces is keeping up with training."

It's never an easy life when joining the army but with determination to keep his spirits and hopes high, Nikola overcame the tough physical challenges involved in the regiment training.

"It's twice as hard as the other trainings and after the first four weeks of training, I wanted to change to another regiment," Nikola said.

"I wanted to give up but I was told it was all in the mind. So I pushed myself to continue with the training which lasted 28 weeks.

"I passed out in October last year and was the only Fijian in that regiment at the time to pass out.

"It was after five years that a Fijian passed out as a paratrooper."

Nikola said out of about 63 soldiers that joined the Parachute Regiment, only 14 passed out with him.

He said the training was very challenging but it soon turned into a force that kept pushing him forward.

Learning the right tactics of parachuting is an advantage and Nikola knows jumping off an aircraft at 1000 feet needs vigilance and concentration.

"1000 feet is the maximum jump during training and I've jumped nine times. There were three other Fijians when training started but as we progressed, they pulled out," Nikola said.

"While preparing for a jump, we ready ourselves and sometimes when we look at the other English soldiers sweating and looking nervous, we start to feel nervous too.

"But if you know the right techniques of parachuting then there's no problem."

He said with every jump, paratroopers would have their weapons strapped to their thigh and have a Bergen or rucksack weighing 55 pounds.

Nikola added a reserve parachute is strapped to their chest in case their main parachute malfunctions.

He said some soldiers break their legs and are seriously injured when parachute-landing.

He said this only goes to show how serious and dangerous the profession is. Adapting to the cold weather was also an enlightening experience for Nikola.

"I've always thought about army life, watching movies and admiring soldiers with their uniforms undergoing training," he said.

"So joining the army was somewhere down the line of my life. It's a really good experience and I've learned a lot.

"Army life has helped me to be more independent and not rely on anyone else because now I can afford things for myself I could not before.

"I have also become a more responsible person. I haven't gone on tour yet but for those thinking of joining the army, think really carefully about what you want to pursue in life.

"If joining the army is something you fancy doing in life than let nothing and no one stop you from doing it."

Nikola is in the country for two weeks and is one of 2200 Fijian soldiers in the British Army. He said parachuting and the marines are two of the hardest regiments to enter.

There are another 100 Fijians in the Royal Navy.