Through trying times, these Airmen Prevailed

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Courtney Richardson
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Each year Air Force units around the world recognize their top performers from the previous year. The members, along with their leadership and families, typically don their formal attire and celebrate with a perfectly planned meal and formal ceremony. This year COVID-19 changed how the awards were presented, but not the celebration for one wing.

The 944th Fighter Wing produced a virtual awards ceremony to honor their top performing Airmen of 2020.

Pulling off the event was a challenge due to the geographical make-up of the wing. The 944th FW is headquartered at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona but has three geographically separated units, the 944th Operations Group Detachment 1 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the 414th Fighter Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and the 924th Fighter Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The nominated members usually all merge to attend the ceremony and find out who the winners are. In accordance with the Center for Disease Control’s safety protocol, the 944th FW Commander, Col. James Greenwald, made the choice not to cancel the celebration, but to modify how it was conducted.

“It’s been a little over a year since the last time we gathered together in the hangar for a traditional wing commander’s call,” said Greenwald during a virtual command address to members of the 944th FW. “Since then, the COVID pandemic has restricted our ability to gather in large groups and prompted us to experiment with a variety of new ways to communicate. Today’s combination virtual Commander’s Call and Annual Awards Ceremony is the latest in our efforts to communicate effectively and safely in the current environment.”

Through careful planning, each unit gathered at their respective duty locations, and watched the live-streamed ceremony at the same time as their counterparts across the country.

Throughout the virtual awards ceremony the nominees watched as their names and official photos appeared for each category, and each received a medallion signifying their selection as a finalist in their annual award category. Upon the announcement, the winners were presented bronze eagle awards by their leadership.

Despite the restrictions on large gatherings and having to adjust time-honored traditions to mitigate the spread of illness, the members of the 944th FW came through with resilience. Virtual cheers and celebration of the 944th FW team spanned the continental United States as the wing’s top performers were recognized.

The winners are…
Airman of the Year: Staff Sgt. Kristy Riley, 924th Fighter Group
Non Commissioned Officer of the Year: Tech. Sgt. John Howe, 944th Maintenance Squadron
Senior NCO of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. James Pumarejo, 924th Maintenance Squadron
First Sergeant of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. Michael Kuehler, 944th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Instructor Weapon Systems Officer of the Year: Lt. Col. Eric Ostendorf, 307th Fighter Squadron
Instructor Pilot of the Year: Maj. Joshua Jones, 944th Operations Group, Detachment 2
Company Grade Officer of the Year: Capt. Danielle Clark, 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron
Field Grade Officer of the Year: Maj. Alexander Esson, 944th Operations Group, Detachment 2
Junior Civilian of the Year: Mr. Dale Haretuku, 924th Maintenance Squadron
Senior Civilian of the Year: Ms. Nicole Martens, 414th Fighter Group

At the end of the ceremony the 944th FW Command Chief expressed her excitement for this coming year.

“This was a great group of candidates and a phenomenal selection of winners,” said Chief Master Sgt. Catherine Buchanan, 944 FW command chief. “If we had this level of excellence in 2020, I can’t imagine what 2021 has in store.”