Virginia Air National Guard recognizes top Airmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kellyann Elish
  • 192nd Wing

The Virginia Air National Guard recognized Airmen that performed above and beyond their duties during the year 2019 at the annual awards ceremony Feb. 8, 2020, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Virginia National Guard Air Component Commander Brig. Gen. Toni M. Lord, Virginia Air National Guard State Command Chief Master Sgt. Kelly B. Reich, 192nd Wing Commander Col. Mark D. Piper, and 192nd Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Christopher L. Amburn presented state and national level awards to deserving Airmen.

These Airmen best represented not only the wing, but the Commonwealth of Virginia as well. Airmen awarded at the state level will also compete at the national level.

“Today is a special day to recognize a few of our exceptional Airmen,” said Lord. “These members showed up to work with a sense of purpose, always challenging themselves to be better than the previous day, setting higher expectations for the next day. They continuously competed against themselves to grow, advance and be successful, not just for themselves, but for their families, their unit and the Virginia Air National Guard’s federal and state missions. Each of their skills, along with every one of you, only enhance and compliment the Airman working next to you, across from you and in this room. By challenging yourself, working together and supporting each other, we ensure everyone’s success as a team.”

For 2019, the state-level award winners were newly promoted Staff Sgt. Thomas Massa, 192nd Medical Group, Outstanding Airman of the Year; Tech. Sgt. Solomon Drake, 192nd Operations Group, Outstanding Noncommissioned Officer of the Year; Master Sgt. Michael Ray, 192nd Mission Support Group, Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year; and Master Sgt. Dalton Johnson, 192nd Operations Group, Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year. The Outstanding Company Grade Officer of the Year award went to 1st Lt. Dara Kirkland, 192nd Operations Group, and the Outstanding Field Grade Officer of the Year award to Maj. Lawrence Dietrich, 192nd Operations Group.

Massa was presented with the final award of the ceremony, the 2019 Outstanding Virginia Air National Guard Guardsman of the Year award.

“This is the overall winner that exemplifies everything that we ask for in an Airman,” said Piper. “We ask for integrity, we ask for service before self, and we ask for excellence. This individual exemplifies this. This individual is a leader both formally and informally, is an outstanding contributor not only in the unit, but when this individual went off to PME (professional military education), he graduated number one. He is a tireless volunteer both within his community and here within the organization.”

The VaANG also had seven nominees for the Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez Award at the state level that went on to compete at the National Guard Bureau level.

“One of the most prestigious awards in all of the Air Force is the Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez Award,” said Piper. “This award is basically for the best professional maintainers in the entire Air Force, the total force; it’s for both aircraft maintenance and munitions maintenance.”

The VaANG had not only one, but three national-level award winners for this award. 1st Lt. Hayley Jefferis won the NGB-level Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez Award. Master Sgt. Kyle Kirkland and Senior Airman Ethan Martin were also national level winners from Virginia.

During the ceremony, Lord spoke about recruiting efforts and how each and every Airman in the entire VaANG help the recruiting team meet its goal. The recruiting team exceeded 100 percent and hit historical markers for 2019. There were numerous of them that were recognized at the Region IV level who will compete at the national level. Lord wanted to specifically recognize one of these Airmen, Staff Sgt. Jonquil Willard, 192nd Maintenance Squadron unit career advisor. Willard won the Unit Career Advisor of the Year Region IV Award.

“The reason I want to recognize that particular person is because this member is a unit career advisor,” said Lord. “… It is a critical job to retain and recruit, that operative retain. The amount of time and energy we put into people, training them, getting them spun up and then succeeding at our mission, it’s important to sit down and give them career education, give them feedback, continue their training and growing them even further so that we can maintain them for 20 years.”

Piper emphasized that although readiness and the mission are important, the number one priority is Airmen.

“It will always be Airmen … At the end of the day, our job is to make you successful,” said Piper. “We want you to be able to achieve every personal and professional goal that you have to make your career as fulfilling as possible and your quality of life as high as possible … Airmen is our number one priority, and that is why we are here today to recognize the best from our organization.”