Air Force dream becomes reality

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Nobody was going to tell 12-year-old Lily Upton that she wouldn’t make the cut for a career in the military.

Now at 20, she has graduated from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Officer Commissioning Course at RNZAF Base Woodbourne.

Growing up in Stratford, Taranaki, Pilot Officer Upton had some negative reactions when telling people of her future plans.

“Being a pilot was my goal. There was a boy older than me who applied for the Air Force and wasn’t successful and based on that some people thought there would be no chance that I would be successful.

“It bugged me, but didn’t put me off. I knew I wanted to do it – I had loads of support from mum who thought it would be a really good career.”

Completing the 17-week course at Base Woodbourne was a real achievement.

“The course was really cool. There were some hard days – especially the first nine weeks, which was military induction training, but most days I had to pinch myself and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m here’,” Pilot Officer Upton said.

“I may not have made it as a pilot but my hard work paid off and I proved myself during the selection process and was instead offered a place as an air warfare officer, an opportunity I am proud to have been offered.”

She is about to begin training with No. 5 Squadron and will be one of the first to learn the air warfare role in the RNZAF’s new P-8A Poseidon aircraft, arriving at RNZAF Base Ohakea late next year.

“It will be really exciting to be working on a brand new aircraft,” she said.

Pilot Officer Upton joined the RNZAF out of a desire for a challenging career that would also allow her to help people.

“I loved that the Air Force challenges you in terms of your trade skills but also your personal growth through the unique challenges and leadership opportunities. It sounded like a really exciting career which provides really unique experiences.”

If Pilot Officer Upton had an opportunity to speak with other aspiring aviator 12-year-olds, she would tell them the Air Force is an amazing opportunity and to go for it.

“Follow your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not achievable, because it is,” she said.

“There hasn’t been a day yet where I have regretted or even questioned joining the Air Force. The recruitment process can seem long and perhaps a bit intimidating but it is worth it.

“If you are thinking about joining the best thing you can do is talk to people who are in or have been in the Air Force. It is one thing to read recruitment brochures and info but actually talking to people about what you can do in the Air Force will give you way better insight into what the Air Force is like and what’s available.”

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