City of Wollongong RSL Sub-Branch president Peter Poulton has been awarded the RSL's highest honour.
Mr Poulton was caught completely by surprise when he was presented the RSL Meritorious Service Medal by RSL NSW State president James Brown at Figtree RSL Bowling Club on Tuesday.
He received the highest recognition available to RSL members in Australia after having previously being awarded RSL NSW Life Membership.
It acknowledges Mr Poulton's significant contributions to the serving and ex-service community and the Australian Defence Force over three decades more than two decades as president of the Wollongong sub-branch.
"To be honest I was overwhelmed by the surprise," he said.
"It was surreal and I feel greatly honoured. But behind every president or someone who gets these awards there are other people who are there behind them".
Mr Brown said the award was due recognition of his dedication to the welfare of the those in need of assistance and guidance in the areas of Defence Force pensions and entitlements.
City of Wollongong RSL sub-branch honorary secretary Joe Davidson said the recognition of Mr Poulton's achievements highlights the RSL's commitment to the wellbeing and welfare of ex-service and serving members of the Australian Defence Force.
Among the guests present for the surprise presentation to Mr Poulton were members of his family; senior RSL NSW officials, representatives from Federal, State and Local governments and the sub-branch committee who nominated him for the prestigious award.
Mr Poulton joined the RSL in 1986 and became a member of the City of Wollongong sub-branch a year later.
He has served in numerous roles on the sub-branch committee for 31 years but most notably as president since 1997.
He has also been very active within the RSL's Central/Southern District Council, and on the RSL NSW Day Club Committee.
He also instituted the Illawarra ANZAC Day Schools program, was instrumental in planning and implementing an exceptional Illawarra Centenary of ANZAC event in 2015, and worked tirelessly to have the cenotaph and surrounding gardens in the Wollongong CBD upgraded to a very high standard.
Aside from his RSL responsibilities Mr Poulton was also a leader in the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Committee in 1986-87 and for that work was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia.
In that role he coordinated the Welcome Home Parade and convinced the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke of the need to establish the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on ANZAC Parade in Canberra.
Mr Poulton has consistently sought challenging leadership roles within the RSL.
In doing so he has become a highly respected member of the League and a community leader in the Illawarra region.