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But yesterday, Major-general Gawn was promoted to Chief of the New Zealand Army by Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.
''Whilst growing up on a small farm in Ophir, being a professional soldier was the last thing on my mind. Thirty-five years later, being given the opportunity to lead our army is a little surreal,'' Maj-gen Gawn said.
''These are exciting and challenging times to be in a leadership role within defence as we shape our future looking out to 2035 and I am honoured to serve the soldiers of Ngati Tumatauenga as their commander,'' he said.
Maj-gen Gawn (54) was born in Marton and raised in Ophir. He attended Dunstan High School, in Alexandra, before enlisting in the army in August 1978, aged 20.
In his 35-year defence career he had served overseas as the commanding officer of Kiwi Company at Santici Camp in Bosnia and the 3rd New Zealand Battalion at East Timor, and also worked in Singapore, Australia and the United States.
In New Zealand, his many roles included commander of the 3rd Land Force Group, commander of the Burnham Military Camp and land component commander within the Joint Forces New Zealand headquarters.
Since April 2011, he had been commander of the Joint Forces.
In 1996, Maj-gen Gawn was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours, and in 2001 he received a Force Commander's Commendation for his role in East Timor.
Maj-gen Gawn and his wife, Anna, live in Raumati with their daughter, Briar, and twin sons, Hamish and McKenzie.