By Maj. Debbie Magaldi
SANDSTON, Va. -- Top candidates from across the Virginia Air National Guard sat before a rigorous review board during the December 2005 drill weekend. After discussion of each candidate’s exceptional qualities and accomplishments, the board announced the winners of the 2005 Virginia Air National Guard Outstanding Airmen of the Year awards.
For the first time in several years, all of the honors went to members of one unit: the 203d RED HORSE Squadron, a rapid-response civil engineering unit based in Virginia Beach.
In the Airman category, Airman 1st Class Billy J. Newman, 203d Airfield Flight, received Outstanding Airman of the Year honors. The 203d commander, Lt. Col. Paul Julian, commended Newman’s leadership abilities, focus and strong skills. Newman completed technical training school with a grade of 93 percent and performed the additional duty of class leader. Because of his ability to quickly learn new tasks, he was assigned a key role in the 203d’s impending Operational Readiness Inspection as a member of the well-drilling team, one of the Airfield Flight’s most difficult special capabilities. He has also been instrumental in recruiting new members into the 203d, helping to bring the unit’s manning to the highest level in its history.
In Newman’s award submission, Julian described the Airman “as an exceptional example for all unit members to emulate and an outstanding ambassador for the 203d and the Virginia Air National Guard.”
Among the Noncommissioned Officer category candidates, Tech Sgt. Todd R. Henry, 203d Structural craftsman, earned the Outstanding NCO of the Year title. Among recent accomplishments, he spearheaded the successful renovation of a much-needed 5,000-square foot vehicle maintenance facility at Fort Pickett. Then while reviewing the design of, and developing the bill of materials for a guard tower project, Henry was able to reduce material costs by more than 10 percent. He followed through on the project, supervising 10 craftsmen and completing the project ahead of schedule and under budget.
Additionally, he assisted in building a 17-station obstacle course for the Commonwealth ChalleNGe program at the State Military Reservation. Several of Henry’s obstacles on this project were 30-foot above the ground and he ensured that all team members met the required safety standards while building the obstacles.
“His technical capabilities coupled with his superior leadership skills have made Henry invaluable to the 203d and the VaANG,” Julian noted in the award submission. “He demonstrates exceptional leadership, and a caring attitude and positive approach toward his shop and squadron members.”
Receiving the Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year award and the overall title of Virginia ANG Outstanding Guardsman for 2005 is Master Sgt. Neil V. Keane, the 203d’s Recruiting and Retention NCO. He enlisted 39 people into the unit during FY 2005, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. This raises the unit’s manning from 81 to more than 97 percent, the highest staffing level in the unit’s 20-year history. Keane maintains the 203d’s goang.com recruiting web site; and during the year responded to more than 500 email queries. He focused on recruiting critical skills and emphasized recruiting prior-service and fully qualified service members, saving the VaANG and the Air Force hundreds of thousands of dollars in training costs. He encouraged and trained unit members to recruit for the unit, and developed the Adopt-A-School program where unit members conducted different recruiting activities at their local high schools.
He expertly coordinated 203d representation at numerous local and regional festivals and parades, air shows and athletic events with support from 30 unit volunteers and 12 pieces of heavy construction equipment. Keane is an active member of the 203d’s Honor Guard, has been a Big Brother volunteer for the last five years, and assisted with the SkillsUSA Program regional competition for Virginia/North Carolina, hosted at the 203d, that included 178 high school students. According to Julian, Keane also did an outstanding job of facilitating and maintaining the Career Motivation Program, keeping unit morale and retention high. He is described as indispensable.
“Headquarters received many outstanding submissions for consideration by the board, which was made up of a senior enlisted member from the Headquarters, the 192d Fighter Wing and the 203d RED HORSE,” noted Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia, Air Component Command Chief John Iorio. “There are so many truly exceptional enlisted men and women in the Virginia Air Guard that this awards board always has its work cut out for it. The very best of the VaANG sits before this board; and all of them are winners. Each of them was selected as the top enlisted members of their respective units.”