VaANG top performers recognized at annual awards ceremony

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

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --The Virginia Air National Guard held its annual awards ceremony to recognize the 2023 Outstanding Airmen of the Year Feb. 3, 2024, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, in Hampton, Virginia. Brig. Gen. Catherine M. Jumper, Virginia Air National Guard commander, and Col. Brock E. Lange, 192nd Wing commander, hosted the event and presented awards alongside Chief Master Sgt. Ian D. Stegherr, Virginia Air National Guard state command chief, and Chief Master Sgt. Sean J. Fretwell, 192nd Wing command chief.

"Recognition is part of being in the military,” said Lange. “We have hard jobs, we do hard things, and we ask you to do these hard things, often times away from your family in terribly austere, awful conditions. In 2023, as we always do, the VaANG has done more than her fair share. We represent the commonwealth both deployed and at home with our TFI partners. When we go to basic training and come home as the honor graduate and then follow up with being the distinguished graduate. These are the things we treat as normal in the VaANG because we operate at a high level because we are a team that takes care of one another, we love each other, and we support each other. That’s what today is all about."

The following personnel were recognized as the VaANG’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2023:

- Outstanding Airman of the Year: Senior Airman Alexis Kyles with the 192nd Maintenance Group

- Outstanding Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Tech. Sgt. Shaquan Williams with the 192nd Mission Support Group

- Outstanding Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Master Sgt. Grace Salcedo, with the192nd Mission Support Group

- Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year: Master Sgt. Solomon Drake, a first sergeant with the 192nd Medical Group

Kyles was also recognized as the 2023 Virginia Air National Guard Overall Outstanding Airman of the Year. In 2023, Kyles supported two temporary duty assignments with joint integration operations with the U.S. Navy, correcting 17 avionic system failures, generating 500 sorties, totaling 750 flying hours, posturing 24 pilot upgrades and earned the “Top Unit” award for the 27th Fighter Generation Squadron as a total force effort. Kyles also resolved several complex multi-functional system failures, trained total force personnel on proper rekey procedures, completed all 175 Journeyman career development upgrade tasks in just six months, and acted as the assistant dedicated crew chief for the 192nd Wing's flagship aircraft, earning recognition as Maintenance Professional of the Quarter for AMXS. Additionally, she led base tours for local high school students during the “Air Power Over Hampton Roads” air show and facilitated the annual holiday parade for Sentara Obici Hospital’s children’s department, showcasing the multiple opportunities provided within the VaANG and building local community relations as a citizen airman.

The VaANG’s Outstanding Company Grade Officer of the Year was Capt. Andrea Putnam with the 192nd Operations Group, and the Outstanding Field Grade Officer of the Year was Lt. Col. Nick Chachor with the 192nd Operations Group.

"This is an absolutely high performing organization, so you make it very challenging for us to select one of the many incredible people that you put up in this competition," said Lange.

Three awards were presented on behalf of the Virginia Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, recognizing the efforts of a unit or team.

The 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron received the Adjutant General’s Air Readiness Trophy which recognizes the VaANG unit with the best overall readiness assessed in the following categories: effective manning, training, and robust recruiting and retention efforts. The 192nd AMXS demonstrated excellence in effective manning, trained personnel, as well as recruiting and retention efforts. They achieved an 84% effective manning rate while also increasing their individual medical readiness average 20 points to 89% for the year. Throughout the year, the squadron maintained a 67% 7-level certification, providing the continuity and expertise in support of the total force mission. In addition, they had a 93% retention rate and a 65% reenlistment rate. They led the way in establishing the agile, minimum force, multi-capable Airman training, while also leading and executing the highly successful Command Overland and Hoodoo Sea exercises.

The 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer received the Adjutant General’s Air National Guard Retention Trophy. End strength is important in ensuring readiness and overall health of a unit. Directly related to this statistic is a unit’s retention rate - a unit’s ability to retain quality Airmen is extremely important to overall end strength. Equally important is a unit’s effective manning. Without having the right people in the right positions, the VaANG would be unable to meet mission requirements. The intent of this annual award is to recognize the unit with the most effective retention program resulting in an end strength that best meets mission requirements. As the squadron with the largest authorized manning document within the 192nd Wing, the 203rd RED HORSE’s strategic efforts towards personnel retention and recruitment culminated in the squadron’s 89% retention rate. Along with 17 new members joining the squadron, the 203rd showcased the strength of their recruitment initiatives. They retained the largest number of eligible reenlistments in 2023 and grew in strength through recruitment efforts across nine events. Highlighting a deep-rooted unit loyalty and a shared vision for the future among existing members, their efforts not only fortified their squadron but also bolstered the overall force readiness and unit morale.

The Adjutant General’s Innovation Award was presented to the 149th Fighter Squadron for their innovations that expanded the boundaries of combat capability culminating in exercise Hoodoo Sea. The exercise took place over multiple months to prove a low operational signature movement with minimum force structure, testing the capabilities in a variety of dispersed operational conditions. The 149th FS created a command-and-control structure using equipment from innovation initiatives using delegated authorities to provide synchronous operations from three locations, utilizing a small footprint of fighter, tanker, and strategic airlift assets. The exercise was the first F-22 force element certification providing combatant commanders a blueprint for effective dispersed operations regardless of the area of responsibility.

"We are focused on our mission. We are focused on each other because ‘Airmen’ is how we accomplish our mission," said Lange. "Oftentimes we talk about ‘Airmen are the weapons system’ and right now we get an opportunity to celebrate the best of that weapons system from the VaANG for 2023, and I look forward to the outstanding things we will do together in 2024. Remember, as you walk away from here today, if you did not win, it’s not because you are not awesome. It’s because you are surrounded by awesome people."

In closing remarks, Fretwell touched base on the We Are All Recruiters and Referral Incentive Program and encouraged all VaANG members to download the Wing app and use it in their recruiting efforts. The WEAR Program may grant individuals permissive TDY status if they participate in an event that directly enhances the recruiting mission. All Airmen, regardless of their Air Force Specialty, are recruiters.

The Virginia National Guard’s REP is now offering $1,000 to Virginia citizens who help grow the force with qualified leads who successfully enlist into the Virginia Army or Air National Guard.

"We have to continue to fill the ranks and build who is going to take on the mission for the future," said Fretwell. "This is our now. We have to prepare for tomorrow. In looking at today’s global presence, we have to be ever vigilant in what’s coming and what we have to prepare for. And as Col. Lange has said, ‘Be more lethal.’"

"What an amazing year 2023 was for the VaANG," said Stegherr. "We are looking forward to another busy year in 2024 between state active duty, exercises, and deployments. The Secretary of the Air Force has directed us to focus on a Great Power Competition in the Indo-Pacific, but meanwhile other parts of the world remain in active conflict…We are in a precarious situation with our international security environment. However, I believe we will be prepared to meet these challenges in 2024. Why? Because we are the VaANG!"

NCO OAY winner details:
Williams excels as a dedicated drill status guardsman, continuously serving as a role model for both peers and junior members, in all aspects of her duties. While deployed in U.S. Africa Command supporting Operation Enduring Freedom-Juniper Shield, she led daily security operations for a 53-member Security Forces Flight. She bolstered force protection for over 700 base personnel and a 7,000 square mile security zone while maintaining good rule and order. Her leadership was instrumental during the real-world Force Protection Condition Delta event during the challenge of freedom in Niger. Her actions directly led to zero incidents with no loss of life to personnel assigned to Niger Air Base 201.

Williams demonstrated unwavering commitment to member development during her tenure with the Top Three’s Women’s Association, where she excelled as a mentor, providing valuable professional guidance, significantly bolstering the future career paths and decision-making skills of all participants. Identifying a training gap, she led the creation of the Mk 19 and M2A1 Weapon System Familiarity Program, enhancing base security. This initiative proved crucial during the FPCON DELTA event, showcasing its significant impact across the base.

SNCO OAY winner details:
Salcedo is an exceptional guardsman with limitless potential, setting the example for her peers and subordinates, on and off duty. She consistently demonstrates extraordinary leadership skills, unparalleled work ethic, and embodies the Air Force core values. Her ability and willingness to learn and think outside the box, while fostering the warrior ethos and commitment to her wingmen, is a model for all Airmen. While deployed in AFRICOM supporting Operation Enduring Freedom-Juniper Shield, she served as Security Forces superintendent, providing expert oversight of five sections. Her duties ranged from managing a process improvement event that identified 13 procedural discrepancies and facilitated the successful execution of 241 outside-the-wire missions and led to zero incidents during the real-world FPCON DELTA event during the challenge of freedom in Niger.     

Salcedo’s dedication to her Airmen motivated her to spearhead 11 self-help projects which revived the derelict defensive fighting positions across the seven square-kilometer base security zone which were utilized to provide cover during the conflict in Niger. She also acted as an ambassador for the VaANG. Her recruiting actions led to two deployed members joining the 192nd Security Forces Squadron after their return from their AFRICOM deployment, bolstering the unit’s manning and the unit’s ability to bolster the AG’s recruiting initiative.

1st Sgt OAY winner details:
In the 192nd MDG, there stands a leader whose dedication and service exemplifies the highest ideals of military excellence. Drake, serving as the 192nd MDG first sergeant, has become a cornerstone of strength and resilience throughout his short time in the group. Known for his transformative leadership, Drake has cultivated a culture of excellence. His approach, blending empathy with decisiveness, has resonated deeply with the MDG’s Airmen. Beyond his military duties, Drake's influence extends to the broader Air Force community. His initiative in organizing community sports programs has bridged the gap between the Air Force and local communities, fostering a spirit of unity and cooperation. His dedication to service is not just a professional commitment but a personal creed.

CGO OAY winner details:
Putnam serves as the Operations Flight officer in charge in the 185th Cyber Operations Squadron. She demonstrated exceptional leadership as she led the air planning team for the joint inter-agency fiscal year 2023 Cyber Fortress Exercise, fostering a crucial multi-agency partnership for domestic operations. Putnam’s expertise in cyber operations led to her selection for exercise Ruska in Finland, where she played a crucial role in defining standard operating procedures with a NATO partner. Despite manning and resource challenges, she was able to manage and distribute over 500 training days and 104 training periods, ensuring successful completion of five large scale exercises and the unit’s mission readiness. Additionally, Putnam was hand selected to join a strategic community engagement, giving a tailored briefing on cyber operations to local high school students in order to highlight opportunities in the VaANG.

FGO OAY winner details:
Chachor serves as the assistant director of operations in the 149th Fighter Squadron. He coordinated key leader engagements and fighter integration efforts in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, and Germany, leading an information operations campaign in support of Russian deterrence and NATO alliances through F-22 agile combat training events and static demonstrations. As the project officer for Command Overland, a joint special operations exercise, he built an agile combat team over 99% smaller than a typical deployment, demonstrating full operational capability of a small force F-22 deployment, capable of supporting rescue and strike operations in a contested/denied environment. Furthermore, as a fifth-generation subject matter expert, Chachor taught F-18/F-22 integration academics, led seven Finnish Air Force pilots around Langley and coordinated a Finland up-close tour of the F-22. He largely contributed to ongoing VaANG exercise participation with Finnish Defense Forces.