Tim Costley, National's candidate for the Ōtaki electorate in the upcoming general election, has been given a special award by the New Zealand Defence Force.

He has been awarded a Defence Meritorious Service Medal and the Chief of Defence Force Commendation for his contribution to the Missing Wingman Trust.

Costley said he was "humbled" to receive the medal.

The charitable trust covers Air Force families where a family member has been killed, injured, wounded or seriously ill.

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Costley, a Wing Commander, set up the trust in 2010, after the deaths of Flight Sergeant Andy Forster, Aircraftman Blake Hudson, and Squadron Leader Nick Cree.

In 2009 Forster was killed in an explosion in Waioru, Hudson died of a heart issue while on base, and in 2010 Cree died during a Red Checkers aerobatics display training accident.

The loss of Cree, whose son was born a few months after his death, hit Costly hard as they had spent their careers flying together.

Who would put Cree's son through university and what about Hudson and Forster's families, he wondered.

Their deaths were the catalyst for Costley to start setting up the trust, which gets its funds from donations, while he was in a coalition base in Afghanistan.

A Defence Meritorious Service Medal.
A Defence Meritorious Service Medal.

"We have supported more families that I ever thought we would need to but sadly this has been the reality.

"It is not just the higher profile deaths but the many families battling cancer, the loss of a child, or maybe mental illness.

"It is often the hidden cases, not the high profile ones, that have needed the most support."

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Founding and running the trust had been long and challenging but "successful only because of the work of many others".

It had been "hugely rewarding" too.

"Helping the children of a serviceperson who died to go right through university and see them go on to succeed has been a real honour, as has sending kids away to something like the Walsh Memorial Flying Camp in Matamata, where they can pick up a bit of mum or dad's passion for aviation, even if mum or dad is sadly not there to pass it on themselves."

Costley said the trust had taken a huge amount of time and energy "but it is worth it every time you get to share just a small amount of joy with a family in the midst of tragedy".

"We have raised, and spent, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Not one dollar goes to staff or volunteers.

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"The thing that most satisfies me is when we can genuinely help a family in need and remove just a little of the burden they are carrying."