Playing a crucial role in the New Zealand Defence Force’s response to COVID-19 and its ability to deliver aid to the Pacific has helped earn Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Dennis Tommy the Royal New Zealand Air Force Airman of the Year award.

He said he was honoured and humbled to receive the award last week, which also recognised his contribution to the Pasifika community.

“Recognition isn’t really what I’m after though. I just see something that needs to be done and I do it.”

Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Andrew Clark said the Airman of the Year was awarded to the serviceperson who took action to make a significant and positive contribution to the RNZAF and the Defence Force, and who personified their core values.

“Looking at what LAC Tommy has achieved this year is impressive. He is an excellent ambassador and outstanding role model who has personified the Defence Force ethos and values. His work ethic and consistent commitment to go above and beyond is second-to-none,” AVM Clark said.

In response to COVID-19, LAC Tommy responded to rapidly evolving medical regulations, including initiating procedures to procure and manage personal protective equipment across No. 40 Squadron for aircrew, squadron maintenance teams and all associated aeronautical workshops.

He also created bio-hazard cleaning packs for the Squadron’s Boeing 757s and C-130H Hercules, which was crucial to ensuring aircrews remained at the ready to safely respond during the pandemic response. 

The virus outbreak in New Zealand coincided with LAC Tommy’s work in arranging provisions for the squadron to deploy to the Middle East.

“We were just a couple of days before going when the trip was cancelled. I was able to get in touch with all the distributors and get extra provisions for the Squadron so they could carry on with work during lockdown,” LAC Tommy said.

His work also proved vital when No.40 Squadron was called on to deliver aid to Fiji and Vanuatu following the Cyclone Harold.

Samoan-born LAC Tommy played an integral part in the establishment of the Base Auckland Pasifika Group, an initiative with a focus on Pasifika welfare, professional development and community engagement, and was a mentor in the Auckland Pacific community focusing on young people - as well mentoring junior personnel in the workplace and in sport. 

“My family came to New Zealand when I was really young so I was able to take advantage of the education system that my parents wanted.

“It’s really important that more Pasifika people join the military because we bring a different perspective and also our culture to the work. I believe that diversity makes for a stronger military,” LAC Tommy said. 

“I enjoy boosting the Pasifika culture in the military because there aren’t many of us, so I think it helps the Pacific people who are here.”

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