IN 1968, at 19 years old, Sandra Lambkin joined the Royal Australian Navy, and more than 50 years later she has received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) and still works with defence personnel.
She has earned her honour due to her service with veterans, having first taken up a role at the Tamworth RSL sub-branch in 2002, and she's climbed through the ranks of the organisation since then.
Now living in Tintinhull, just outside of Tamworth, Ms Lambkin grew up in Moree and decided from an early age that joining the navy was what she wanted to do, despite not knowing anyone who served in it.
She was serving during the Vietnam War era, acting as a motor transport driver which allowed her to meet captains of visiting ships from all around the world.
Her association with the Tamworth RSL began in 1982 when she became a member, and fulfilled a number of administration roles at both the local club and the New England District Council - the latter of which she was president of from 2013 to 2017.
After that she made the next step and became a director of RSL NSW.
In that role she spent time on the Nominations and Performance Committee, the Veteran Services and Policy Committee, was vice-president of the Australian Forces Overseas Fund, chair of the Selections Committee and gained life membership.
Her career has many highlights, although Ms Lambkin said it made her particularly proud to help rebuild the structure of RSL NSW after 2017, and felt she has left that part of the organisation in much better condition than what she found it in.
A couple of feel-good moments have also stuck with the new OAM recipient.
"I'm a historian so I did some research on a Japanese photograph album that was brought into us, it was found in Papua New Guinea in 1944 and it sat in the home of a Tamworth man until he died and his wife brought it into us," she said.
"After about three years of research I was able to find the family of the owner of that photograph album, and [current Tamworth RSL sub-branch president] Jane McCarthy and I went to Japan and returned it to his family which was pretty special."
Ms Lambkin also had a book on the soldiers listed on the honour rolls of the Tamworth Anzac memorial gates, dubbed Not Just Names In Stone, published by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2014.
After all her efforts it is easy to see why she has been rewarded with an OAM - or at least it is to everybody except herself.
"I was in disbelief really, in fact I didn't really believe it, I got the email and everything but it all seemed a bit weird, I thought 'that's what happens to other people'," she said.
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