30 years in the RAAF with Flight Lieutenant Sonya Etches

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Flight Lieutenant Sonya Etches has been working in the RAAF for over thirty years. She is currently a Nursing Officer posted to the Health Operational Conversion Unit (HOCU).
She sat down with us to have a chat about how she got started and why she still loves her work three decades on. 

What led you to the role? 

My father and grandfather were both in the Military and listening to stories of their experiences always remained with me. I wanted a career within the RAAF and and a lifestyle that was exciting and offered opportunities for travel and personal growth. Generations of my family served their country and I wanted to do the same. 

Was it always a dream to work in your role, or have you learned to love it? 

I always wanted to do something a little different from my friends and military life always appealed to me. I joined the RAAF originally as a Supplier and then after 9 years changed jobs and became a Clerk. I was working with some inspiring Doctors and Nurses and listening to their incredible stories and from there my interest in Nursing came to the forefront. With the encouragement and support of my family and the RAAF I completed a Nursing degree. The RAAF allowed me to achieve my ambitions and supported me through the transition from Airmen to Officer. 

What stands out as the most significant moment of your career? 

My deployment to Afganistan in 2017. I worked with some extraordinary medical personnel from all over the world all coming together to provide high quality health care. It was rewarding but also very challenging at the same time.

Which aspect do you love best, and what do you find the most challenging? 

I love being part of a unique community that encourages personal growth and challenges you to become the best version of yourself. I have worked with some incredible people and the best part is the lifelong friends I have made along the way. 

The most challenging part of Military life is being away from family and friends. You can never prepare yourself for the challenges and personal sacrifices inherent to Air Force life.

Is there anything you would change? 

I don’t think so, if I changed anything I would not have met my husband and not be where I am today. I have always had the support of my family and without them wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have done over my career.

Where has the job taken you? 

I have travelled all over Australia and have worked and deployed all over the world. I have been given some incredible opportunities, career growth and educational opportunities. I have some unique experiences rarely found in civilian life. 

How much has changed during your time working? 

When I first joined the RAAF it wasn’t anticipated that you would deploy overseas in support of overseas operations. However, the new generation of Airforce Personnel will most likely deploy not long after completing all of their initial employment training courses.  This is part of military life and everyone who deploys should be proud to be part of keeping Australia safe.

What advice would you give to women looking to follow in your footsteps?

If you are thinking about a career in the RAAF, I would definitely recommend it. You will be challenged and experience many things most civilians never get the opportunity to do. You will be encouraged to strive for excellence and live by a set of values that will follow you through to civilian life.

What is next for you?

The RAAF has been a major part of my life for the past 30 years and I have had a fabulous career. The opportunities and memorable experiences I have been given will last a lifetime. By the end of the year I will be transitioning to the Air Force Reserves so I will be able to spend more time with my family. I am proud to have served my country and take pride in knowing I belong to a group who continue to look after Australia’s National interests.