Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Annual awards recognizes Reservists, honors history of excellence

by Senior Airman Madelyn McCullough
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

3/12/2014 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Each year, the 446th Airlift Wing hosts an awards banquet to honor outstanding Reservists in the wing, along with the families and employers who support them every day. The 446th AW Annual Awards Banquet journeyed down a new road March 8, uniting Air Force heroes and legends from the past to share the evening with current and former members of the unit.

The Pacific Northwest rain didn't keep more than 550 guests away from celebrating the night at Boeing's Museum of Flight in Seattle. This venue holds one of the largest air and space collections in the United States, featuring over 150 aircraft and space vehicles, some suspended from the ceilings.

Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve, AFRC commander, and keynote speaker for the event, shared a message about the national commission on the structure of the Air Force and thanked the Reservists and awardees for all their hard work.

"In this wing, you are all warriors," he said.

Some of these warriors were recognized by the wing with quarterly, annual and MVP awards.

For the first time in the banquet's history, the competition for Company Grade Officer of the Year resulted in a tie between Capt. Carrianne Ekberg, 446th Force Support Squadron and Capt. Christopher Kaighen, 86th Aerial Port Squadron.

"When Capt. Ekberg was first called up I thought that I couldn't have lost to a better person," said Kaighen. "She does amazing things for the FSS, the (Mission Support Group) and the wing. When they made the announcement that there was a tie and that I was also going to be recognized, I was surprised and ecstatic."

Ekberg was also proud to share the award with Kaighen.

"I thought it was really great that they chose me and also Captain Kaighen," said Ekberg. "It's a pretty big honor. It makes you feel great about the work that you've been doing."

Raising the excellence bar, many Reservists and units took home command-level awards. Some examples include an outstanding unit award for the entire wing, outstanding chaplain corps, recruiting service public affairs award, recruiting service century club master badge, and civilian of the year.

Additionally, awards were presented to the spouse and the employer of the year.

Coleen Gause, who earned this year's award for Spouse of the Year, was nominated by her husband, 1st Lt. Gregory Gause, 313th Airlift Squadron pilot, because of the understanding and support she has shown for the past three years while he was in pilot training.

"For every spouse that goes through pilot training, it is definitely a sacrifice because of very long days for a sustained period of time," said Gause, who has been married to Coleen for eight years.

"When you go for a solid year straight of working 12 hour days, and you come home, eat, try to study, then go to sleep, and do it all over again, it's definitely taxing on the family time."

"She does this while juggling their three children," he said.  "It's a Herculean effort in and of itself."

The award for employer of the year was presented to Starbucks, for their constant support of Citizen Airmen. Cliff Burrows, group president of the U.S., Americas, and Teavana corporations accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

They promised to hire thousands of veterans this year.

The audience was introduced to the stories of Airmen who have made many contributions to the Air Force and are generally regarded by most as heroes.

They included Col. (Ret.) Joe Jackson, Medal of Honor recipient, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ed Saylor, Doolittle Raider, and Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Keith "Bull" Sekora, Wounded Warrior and former member of the wing. The Airmen were honored as each extraordinary story was read aloud, resulting in a standing ovation and a crowd with tears in their eyes.

"I think their stories are always inspiring to everyone," said Ekberg. "On a day-to-day basis we don't do things like [what they did]. It motivates you when you hear the stories of what some of these people have done, that are beyond what you think you could ever do."

"Having such influential members from both the past and present Air Force meant a lot," said Kaighen. "Also, having the current AFRC Commander present made for a once in a lifetime experience."

With a combination of words of wisdom from wing leaders, inspiration from Air Force heroes, honored awardees, and the strength and support from families and employers, the night ended.

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