WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON - Air Force officials announced the service's top enlisted members Wednesday, naming Pennsylvania Air National Guard Staff Sgt. John Norris as one the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2011.
Norris, a tactical air control party specialist with the 193rd Special Operations Wing, began his journey to this level during his most recent deployment in Afghanistan, when he learned his hard work and dedication had been recognized.
He was selected as the 193rd’s Outstanding Airman of the Year for non-commissioned officers. Following his wing-level award, Norris went on to win at the Air National Guard level as the NCO Outstanding Airman of the Year, an award his squadron commander says he truly earned.
“Staff Sgt. Norris is an exceptional, combat-hardened NCO, [joint tactical air control party specialist] and citizen battlefield airman,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Terrence Koudelka, 148th Air Support Operations Squadron commander. “He is truly deserving of this recognition, and I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments and achievements this past year while serving in Afghanistan.”
While deployed Norris served with the 101st Airborne Division, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack.
As a JTAC with Task Force No Slack, Norris coordinated and controlled 120 close air support missions and conducted more than 100 combat patrols, for which he was awarded the Army Commendation medal with a valor device.
He is also credited for the capture of one high-value target and the elimination of another.
“As a JTAC he has operated at the tip of the spear, shoulder-to-shoulder with United States Army infantrymen,” Koudelka said. “His performance in combat, under enemy fire, was undeniably stellar and valorous.”
Norris’ achievements during his recent deployment earned him a nomination for the Bronze Star, with a valor device, for which his Army commanding officer at the time selected him for actions of service and merit.
Norris charged into enemy fire to rescue two wounded and isolated soldiers during an enemy ambush. He was able to order an evacuation of the two injured soldiers while simultaneously directing fire from two Apache helicopters that successfully silenced the enemy, controlling multiple air assets, directing close air support and firing his personal weapon.
“It was very hectic. I can’t tell much about how I was feeling, because when your fight-or-flight takes over the memory part of your brain shuts off,” Norris said. “I do remember running with a Skedco (rescue system) and seeing bullets impact the ground around me.”
He attributes his skills as part of his traditional role as a TACP.
After being selected the Air National Guard Outstanding of the Year for non-commissioned officers he was placed up against 35 other nominees for an Air Force selection board at the Air Force Personnel Center
The board then selected the top 12 airmen based on superior leadership, job performance and personal achievements.
As a winner, Norris will be authorized to wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year ribbon with the Bronze Service Star device on the ribbon He will also wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year Badge for one year from the date of formal presentation.
When he was selected to represent the Air National Guard in the top 35, Norris took the time to thank and honor his teammates.
“I am honored to be selected and to represent the 148 ASOS and the ANG,” he said. “I couldn’t have achieved this without all of the excellent training and teamwork of the ‘One Four Great’ and of course, I can’t forget the soldiers of Alpha Company, Task Force No Slack, whom I served with in Afghanistan.”
Norris, along with the other 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, will be honored in September during the Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here.
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