By Army Capt. Joseph Brooks
130th Public Affairs Detachment
ARLINGTON, Va. (8/27/12) – The best Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard were honored at the 2012 Outstanding Soldier and Airmen of the Year banquet here Aug. 24.
The event honored the top performers in the National Guard for the year in multiple specialties and positions. The Soldiers and Airmen each earned their title through extraordinary performance and individual achievement throughout the year and represent the best from the National Guard.
Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, the guest speaker for the evening, congratulated each of the awardees for their accomplishments, dedication and the examples they set for the National Guard.
The enlisted personnel received special remarks from the enlisted leadership of the National Guard for setting the example for the thousands of enlisted Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard.
"[These winners] have notably carried on the Guard's traditions of defending for over 300 years," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, senior enlisted leader for the National Guard Bureau.
Jelinski-Hall noted that too often these Soldiers and Airmen say that they were just doing their job.
"Extraordinary Americans," she repeated throughout her speech commending the Outstanding Soldiers and Airmen of the Year 2012. "Ready to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan or any four corners of our country."
Army Sgt. Mark Fuggiti of Pa., the Best Solder of the Year; Army Sgt. Matthew Howard of Ark., the Best Non-commissioned Officer of the Year; Army Sgt. 1st Class Craig Wester of Ariz., the Best Recruiter of the Year; and Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Plocar of Wisc. and Army Capt. Robert Killian of Colo., sixth place finishers of the Best Ranger Competition, were honored for the Army National Guard. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Madiar of Ill. and Army Sgt 1st Class Zachery Philips of Ore., third place finishers in the Best Ranger Competition, could not be present but were honored for their outstanding achievements.
Senior Airman Michael McCaffrey of Wash., the Best Airman of the Year; Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob Scott Curtis of Ill., the Non-commissioned Officer of the Year; Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Luke Thompson, the Senior Non-commissioned Officer of the Year; Air Force Master Sgt. Fred Hudgins Jr. of Ariz., the First Sergeant of the Year; Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffrey Lamarche of N.Y., the Best Honor Guard Program Manager of the Year, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Carrie Kline of Ind., the Best Honor Guard Member of the Year, were honored for the Air National Guard.
Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burch, command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, explained the Army's Best Warrior and Best Noncommissioned Officer Competition. He expressed the trials and tribulations of the various phases of the competition to a joint audience of Army and Air National Guard members. He congratulated Fuggiti and Howard for their ability to persevere and excel throughout the daunting competition.
Burch congratulated Howard, the Best Recruiter of the Army National Guard, for his accomplishment in recruiting and retention. It is the efforts of great recruiters that keep the Army strong, Burch said.
Burch went on to congratulate the Best Ranger teams. This was the first time in the history of the competition that the National Guard had two teams to place in the top ten in this competition.
Burch concluded by saying, "I am proud to be standing beside and being part of the Army National Guard with them. Continue to strive for excellence, be yourself, believe in yourself and don't be afraid to go for your dreams, because dreams become goals."
Jelinski-Hall quoted Douglas MacArthur when she was explaining the type of leadership the winners exemplify: "He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent."
The banquet guests were treated to a special performance by the U.S. Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and an intermission performance by the U.S. Air Force Strolling Strings. Usually reserved for presidential banquets and for honoring foreign dignitaries, these two groups received standing ovations for their performances.
The event culminated with an address by McKinley, the 26th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. McKinley said he was proud to be speaking at this event in one of his last official ceremonies before retirement.
"Tonight is all about the Airmen and Soldiers, our enlisted force," McKinley said. "We are so blessed in the National Guard to have an outstanding enlisted force that give us, the officer corps, the opportunity to lead."
McKinley's praise of the enlisted force continued, pointing out the value of the civilian-acquired skills from the first National Guard Soldiers more than 375 years ago and the tradition that lives on today. He praised the enlisted corps and the senior enlisted advisers that have been there for him throughout his career.
After McKinley spoke, the awards to the outstanding Soldiers and Airmen were presented. Each of the awardees was called individually to receive a Minuteman statue that symbolizes the outstanding achievements and dedication of the service members.
The banquet is not the end for Fuggiti and Howard, the Army National Guard Best Soldier and Best Noncommissioned Officer. The two Soldiers go on to compete against active-duty and Reserve Soldiers in the Army-wide competition.