By Maj. Joel Seppala
1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Regiment 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa Japan – Riki Ellison, founder and chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, visited Okinawa on behalf of his nonprofit organization from Nov. 10 through 13 to honor American and Japanese missile defenders.
Ellison is a former National Football League three-time Super Bowl Champion. He played with the San Francisco 49ers during their dynastic dominance of the 1980s. Ellison is also a former Division I collegiate football national champion and Rose Bowl winner from his playing days at the University of Southern California. His passion, however, since 1983 has been missile defense, not football.
Ellison explained the origin of his fervor for promoting missile defense during his remarks, Nov. 12, at the inaugural MDAA Missile Defender of the Year award dinner at the Kudaka Ballroom at the Kadena Air Base Officers’ Club, Okinawa Japan.
“I was inspired by Ronald Reagan and his vision.” Ellison noted that he had heard President Reagan outline his projection for a missile defense architecture 30 years earlier to the date of the award dinner. “Back then it was not even possible, but look at where we are today.”
During his off-season while playing professional football, Ellison pursued work in the field of missile defense. It was during this time that he built the knowledge base and credibility he needed to found the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance in 2003. The purpose of MDAA is to educate the public about missile defense and gain support for the employment of missile defense systems. The self-described mission of MDAA is “to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces, and its allies against missile threats.”
Since 2011, MDAA has sponsored the Missile Defender of the Year award. The MDOY award initiative seeks to recognize deserving individuals who have demonstrated superior aptitude in missile defense-related military occupational specialties.
This year marked the first such recognition in Okinawa and highlighted winners from the United States Army First Battalion, First Air Defense Artillery and the Japanese Air Self Defense Force Fifth Air Defense Missile Group.
Fire unit-level commanders nominated individuals for the award based on technical and tactical proficiency, individual weapons qualification, physical fitness, community involvement, and a written demonstration of what it meant to the nominee to be a missile defender. The battalion or group leadership then validated the nomination packets and forwarded to MDAA for approval.
The entire process culminated on Tuesday, Nov. 12, during an award dinner at the Kadena Air Base Officers’ Club where nominees were officially designated Missile Defenders of the Year.
One of the highlights of the evening was the football toss in which Ellison hurled a self-autographed football to the award recipient. The toss and catch delighted the 106-person audience. In addition, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Southwestern Air Band provided an outstanding nostalgic big-band style air to the event.
Lt. Gen. Yoshiyuki Sugiyama, commanding general, JASDF Southwestern Composite Air Division was the featured speaker at the event. Brig. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commanding general, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, provided complementary remarks during what was, by any definition, an evening of partnership between the United States and Japan.
Brig. Gen. Karbler analogized how, like in American football, each team needs a few superstars. The purpose of the MDAA MDOY dinner was to recognize some of the superstars in the two highlighted formations.
The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance recognized the following MDOY award winners from each respective organization:
Patriot Operations Center: Senior Airman Soushi Morimura
16th Fire Unit: Senior Airman Tomoaki Miura
17 FU: Staff Sgt. Yoshiyuki Watanabe
18 FU: 1st Lt. Yoshinori Iwabuchi
19 FU: Senior Airman Tatsuhiro Oyama
Headquarters and Headquarters Battery: Spc. Robert Myers
Alpha Battery: Spc. Abigail Ransaw
B Btry: Sgt. Erick Forsythe
C Btry: Sgt. 1st Class Martinis Butler
D Btry: Pfc. Jacob Maxwell
In recognizing the award recipients during his remarks, 1-1 ADA Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Benjamin R. Ogden noted, “This group of remarkable professionals is the reason that Okinawa’s missile defense is renowned and can flourish in an uncertain military today.”
The MDAA, 1-1 ADA, and the 5th ADMG look forward to celebrating the accomplishments of missile defenders on Okinawa next year. In addition, the MDAA plans to expand recognition during similar events on mainland Japan in the coming years.