As an aircraft mechanic, Nicholas Camarillo thought it was kind of ironic that his homecoming flight from Japan to Phoenix was delayed two days due to mechanical reasons.

He was scheduled to return to his parents' home in Ahwatukee Foothills the night before his birthday, Dec. 22, but didn't get in until Christmas day. The US Navy crew chief and avionics technician had just finished a three year stint in Japan, including time at the Naval Air Facility Atsugi, and was eager to be around his family for his first Christmas at home since 2007.

"I was going to get home one way or another," Camarillo, 28, said.

His final days in Japan were capped off with an award ceremony that came with a touch of surprise. Camarillo received Naval Air Crewman of the Year award, which is only given out to one person per year in the Navy.

"I had no idea it was going to happen," he said. "When I was called to the stage, I was still too surprised to talk."

Camarillo said it boiled down to maintenance hours and the training of his fellow sailors. He also logged 1,000 mistake-free flight hours and transported more than 3 million pounds of high priority materials. He and his crew followed the USS George Washington and delivered supplies and crew to the famous aircraft carrier.

Being on board that ship also brought him a touch of fame, within his family at least.

During one of the more recent periods of conflict between North and South Korea, Camarillo transported members of the media to and from the USS George Washington.

"We were watching the news that day and in the background I see him escorting one of the reporters to an area on the plane," his father, John Camarillo, said. "I called him later on and he said, ‘yeah, that was me.'"

But, as Nicholas put it, "it was just another day."

In mid-January he will begin his next assignment at Coronado Island in California, where he will continue to learn and train his fellow sailors. He said he will also be working toward a bachelor's degree in the near future.

"Every day, day in and day out, the Navy is a great family," he said. "I was around the same group of 50 to 55 people for the past three years...but I'm looking forward to a change of scenery."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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