Tauranga born-and-bred, Carlin O'Neill has been honoured by the Royal New Zealand Air Force as their Airman of the Year.
The acting sergeant is the second person to receive the recently-inaugurated award, which recognises the top airman from junior ranks (corporal and below).
The award recognises activities exemplifying courage, commitment, comradeship, integrity and respect.
“I was promoted pretty much right after I got the award,” says Carlin. “My commanding officer nominated me based on what I'd been doing at work, where I'd essentially been doing a sergeant's role for over a year, as well as my community involvement with local clubs.”
That includes surf lifesaving at Muriwai Beach, where Carlin is continuing his patrolling after many years with the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service. He says ‘it's insane' surf lifesaving up in Auckland, with the beaches being more dangerous.
“The Mount gets busy, but the problem is we're just as busy up here, but with more dangerous surf conditions.”
Carlin's been up there for six years, where he lives with his wife and three kids. He's based at Whenuapai, where he works as an aircraft technician fixing helicopters.
“I used to work on the Iroquois helicopters before they were sold, and then I came up to Auckland to work on the Navy's Seasprites.
“I travelled a lot doing that – I've been around the Pacific Islands, Australia and even to the USA.”
As Airman of the Year, Carlin will ‘serve' in the position for 2018, attending events and even travelling to Belgium and France for Anzac Day. And although he's been with the RNZAF for almost ten years, the 32-year-old has no plans of giving up the military life just yet.
“They're putting me through some study at the moment,” he says. “I'm doing an aircraft maintenance engineer's licence and they're paying for the whole thing, which is pretty sweet.”
The Airman of the Year also receives a trophy to be held by his or her unit, a miniature keep sake trophy, CAF Commendation and a specially-designed insignia pin.