News: Air Guard praises 'outstanding' Airmen
Story by Master Sgt. Michael Smith
WASHINGTON – The Air National Guard recognized its six Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2010 here this week with an award ceremony, a formal banquet and a tour of the nation's capital.
Each year, the states and territories select their top performers from the Air Guard’s more than 94,000 enlisted Airmen.
The 2010 Outstanding Airmen of the Year are:
- Senior Noncommissioned Officer: Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Maple, 128th Air Control Squadron, Wisconsin National Guard
- Noncommissioned Officer: Staff Sgt. Kenneth Walker, 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, Washington National Guard
- Airman: Staff Sgt. Natalie Urquieta, 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa National Guard
- First Sergeant: Master Sgt. Heidi Bunker, 179th Airlift Wing, Ohio National Guard
- Honor Guard Program Manager: Master Sgt. Brian Mays, 188th Fighter Wing, California National Guard
- Honor Guard Member: Master Sgt. Velia Mireles, 149th Force Sustainment Services Flight, Texas National Guard
“When you consider the capable Airmen that we have in the Air National Guard today … it’s a little bit tougher to rise to the top,” said Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air Guard, at the award ceremony at the Air Guard Readiness Center on Joint Base Andrews, Md.
“Not only are these individuals the best of the best, but they are the best, of the best of the best Air National Guard that we have ever had.”
The Airmen represent a mix of Air Force and civilian career fields.
Their wide-range of accomplishments includes decorated combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan, volunteer work in their communities, educational excellence and dedication to veterans and wounded service members.
Maple is a traditional Guardmember who works in air surveillance and battle staff coordination. Her deployments include a tour in Qatar working air space defense for coalition forces. At home, she works full-time as a radiology technical assistant and a surgical technologist.
“I look at it as an honor and an opportunity to distribute the knowledge that the Air Force has afforded me through experience and education,” she said. “I don’t consider it as an award at all.”
Officials also pointed out Maple's active role in veterans support, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and in veteran memorials.
“We started a Blue Star memorial to honor Blue Star Mothers,” she said, adding the work expanded to honor Medal of Honor recipients and wounded warriors. Today she and others are fundraising and working to establish a national monument for Gold Star Mothers.
Walker is a tactical air control party Airman with combat experience. He provided joint forces close air support with the Army, including his most recent deployment in northeastern Afghanistan where he provided joint terminal attack control for a battalion. He also deployed to Kosovo, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Walker. “Any of us, in my career filed, could have been here in this position.”
“You know, the military asks you to be a good Soldier, [but] I can’t be 100 percent without all those others coming together, without my unit support as well as my family,” he said.
Officials also highlighted Walker's current pursuit of two master's degrees as well as his youth community work.
For Urquieta, a medical technician, officials applauded her efforts to comfort and help wounded servicemembers and civilians, while deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s pretty amazing, she said. “I didn’t expect this.”
At Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, she also got involved with the "Hats for Heroes" wounded warrior program, which knitted and distributed hats to the wounded departing on medial airlift flights to Germany.
Officials lauded Bunker as a model first sergeant, due to her steadfast support for her Airmen at the 179th AW.
She has worked as a first sergeant for about three years, and she credits her training and network of first sergeants and mentors for her success.
“I know so many good people out there who are first sergeants, doing really great things,” said Bunker. “So for me to be sort of plucked out of that group of peers is a little unbelievable.”
Bunker encouraged the best professionalism and excellence from those under her responsibility, said officials, who also praised her civilian job in children's advocacy, support and care.
Finally, the top honor guard program manager and honor guard Airman - Mays and Mireles - achieved the highest recognition for their efforts and support of their base honor guard programs, which provided hundreds of ceremonial honors for veterans, servicemembers and their families.
The six outstanding Airmen will meet with the Guard’s top military leaders this week including: Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Wyatt; Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, senior enlisted leader of the Guard Bureau; and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Muncy, command chief of the Air Guard, as well as top Pentagon officials, service associations and others.
The Airmen also met with David L. McGinnis, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs and Chief Master Sgt. James A. Roy, the 16th chief master sergeant of the Air Force, at the Pentagon.
They will tour the national memorials, speak with their state congressmen and watch the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
Their visit culminates with a formal banquet this afternoon at Bolling Air Force Base.
“We’re super proud of them, but we are also super proud of the other 98,000-plus enlisted members and all that they do,” said Muncy, during a reception at his home June 14. “Every single one of them is critical to the fight.”
Muncy also thanked the awardees’ families, who escorted them.
“We know we can’t do this without you, first, foremost and always,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
The outstanding Airmen compete with the total Air Force’s active duty and Reserve Airmen from other major commands for the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year recognition.
The Army National Guard plans to announce its top Soldiers of 2010 this summer.