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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



23 June 2022


Last week the highly anticipated annual Royal College of Nursing Northern Awards were held at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood.  An inspiring event for everyone who attended as they learnt about just some of the amazing work of nurses across the wide expanse of the health sector.  The Defence Nursing Reservist Award was sponsored by Defence Relationship Management NI and were delighted to announce the outright winner was Squadron Leader Mary B  O’Neill from 502 ( Ulster) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force. 

Mary B joined the Army Reserve in May 1998 was awarded a Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps commission in December 2000. Seeking new challenges Mary B transferred to the RAF Reserve in July 2015, joining No 502 (Ulster) Squadron.  Assuming the responsibilities of senior nursing officer while mentoring junior nurses . Her enduring dedication was re-affirmed in 2018 when she ended her civilian employment to commit more time to the squadron.  Her nominator explains how Mary B has retained an irrepressible love of nursing and continually furthered her own professional development.  With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and although retired from the health service, Mary B felt an overwhelming sense of duty to step forward to assist her civilian colleagues, volunteering to become involved in the vaccinations programme in Northern Ireland, a role she fulfilled alongside her military duties.  Specifically, she elected to help vaccinate those vulnerable within the community, visiting nursing homes and providing domiciliary vaccinations.  In February 2022, Mary B mobilised as a hospital liaison office with 38 (Irish) Brigade, helping to integrate military personnel into hospitals across Northern Ireland.  Operating in an environment requiring a heightened into level of security awareness, she worked alongside military, police and health care professionals, providing daily updates and effectively managing resources.  Her nominator, Wing Commander, Steve McCleery, concludes:  Mary B consistently places patience care and the needs  of colleagues before herself, showing dedication, empathy and compassion.  She epitomised the personnel focused professionalism of today’s reserve forces”

Commenting on the receipt of this special award Mary B said “to win the RCN Defence Nurse of the Year is such an honour. I am so proud to be a nurse and a reservist.  I have been a nurse for 47 years and 22 of them have been in the reserves. The choice I made to join military nursing was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.  As a nurse you consider your work as a duty and a profession. The reward is being there for your patients.  That said I thank my Commanding officer 502 RAuxAF for putting my name forward for this prestigious award. I will always treasure the memory of having been awarded Defence Nurse of the Year.