National Guard celebrates Best of 2021

Home : Features : 2021 : Best of 2021

Sgt. 1st Class Justin Desimone

1st Battalion 211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Utah Army National Guard

Desimone, an Apache crew chief, joined the Guard in 2010. He served at home during regular company missions and deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. A highlight of that mission was "taking part in the German arms proficiency badge and Schutzenschnur. It was awesome to see everyone in our company succeed in getting these two badges. Being able to compete with each other in the German physical fitness test and in their marksmanship test was a great experience that really improved everyone’s morale."

Master Sgt. Corey Ewing

242 Combat Communications Squadron, Washington Air National Guard

Ewing says his favorite mission during his 20-year Air Guard career was mobilizing for the European Defense Initiative last year, including to Poland and Bulgaria. He deployed to Niger for six months this year. Domestically, he helped configure and deploy a secure network and secure video teleconference system to the National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site. When not traveling for work, he enjoys riding his Harley and kayaking.

Tech Sgt. Bradley A. Gann

189th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 189th Mission Support Group, 189th Airlift Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard

Gann joined the Air Guard in 2014 and mobilized this year to support the Arkansas State Police response to Winter Storm Uri, and to Joint Base Andrews outside the nation's capital after the inauguration of President Biden to help manage the arrival and departure of thousands of National Guardsmen and cargo from all 50 states and three territories. "My favorite part of this deployment was the knowledge I gained that has proven to benefit me as an NCO and has helped shape me as a stronger air transportation craftsman."

Capt. Jonathan Guagenti

105th Airlift Wing, 137th Airlift Squadron, New York Air National Guard

Guagenti, a 112MK, C-17 Mobility Pilot, has served in the Air Guard more than 15 years - including a COVID medical evacuation mission in Africa and the Afghanistan airlift, bringing equipment in, taking refugees out and flying the 13 fallen U.S. service members out of Kabul. "The relief of the Afghan people when they knew they were safe from the Taliban was incredibly palpable," he said. "A young 17-day-old girl would never know what it’s like to live under the oppressive regime. And I’ve never had a higher honor than to fly our brothers and sisters out after they paid the ultimate sacrifice to save others."

Staff Sgt. Connor Hart

105th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard

Hart, an aircraft maintenance craftsman, is marking his 20th year in the Guard. He served six months this year at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and has been deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey since August, supporting Afghan evacuees as part of Operation Allies Welcome. He loves playing basketball and lifting weights.

Spc. John Holcomb

Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion 142D Field Artillery Brigade, Arkansas Army National Guard

Holcomb joined the Guard in 2018 and is a TSA security officer in his civilian job. This year, he deployed to Germany and Poland and volunteered to serve in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. "I helped provide food, water and other supplies to people going through a hard time. I was very glad to be able to help them and show how the National Guard is also there for the community and not just military oriented."

Staff Sgt. Amanda Larson

242 Combat Communications Squadron, Washington Air National Guard

Larson, a Guardsman since 2015, was involved in the AK21 exercise, supporting a new ACBN network, and deployed to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Her favorite mission "hands down" was Operation Allies Refuge, helping Afghan evacuees. "I volunteered after work every day for weeks and came in on my weekends because it was so empowering and invigorating to make even a little difference in the lives of those who have already lost so much."

Sgt. James Manternach

1057th Military Police Company, Nebraska National Guard

Manternach lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, but has served in Nebraska for 15 years. This year, he deployed to Kuwait and to Washington for the presidential inauguration. "I joined strictly for college tuition assistance, but I ended up re-enlisting for what I discovered to be much more valuable - purpose, direction and the realization that life isn’t just the family you’re born into but also the family you make along the way."

Senior Master Sgt. Flavio A. Martinez

105th Base Defense Squadron, 105th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard

Martinez served four years in the Navy and joined the Guard in 2009. The recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor Device and a Purple Heart, he mobilized to a COVID-19 testing site in New York and deployed to La Union, El Salvador, this year. "Being born and raised in an impoverished country like the Dominican Republic, I was able to relate and communicate with both El Salvador Armed Forces and the local populous."

Spc. Jaytin Metzger

1057th Military Police Company, Nebraska National Guard

Metzger joined the Guard in 2019 and is deployed to the Middle East as part of the Military Police for Operation Enduring Freedom. He also served in Washington, D.C., in January. "My unit was activated in support of the 59th Presidential Inauguration to ensure a safe and successful transition of power." In his civilian job, he is a dietary aide at a lodge who serves elderly residents, "making sure they’re eating, and taking care of them."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Caleb Nowell

C Company 1-211 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Utah Army National Guard

Nowell, a Guardsman since 2012, is a pilot who served on training missions this year and deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. "The bonds that I have formed with others while on deployments have been a highlight of serving for me. Also the feeling of flying the Apache never gets old."

Master Sgt. Daniel Rivera

105th Base Defense Squadron, 105th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard

Rivera joined the Guard in 2000 and worked in the New York Police Department. He deployed to El Salvador this year and was part of the Guard Security Forces in the nation's capital during the presidential inauguration. The most memorable part of his deployment to El Salvador "was interacting with the locals and being able to help bring medical services to remote areas of this country to the people."

Staff Sgt. Sonny Earl Robertson

1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Utah Army National Guard

Robertson, an AH-64 attack helicopter repairer, joined the Guard in 2010. He served all over Afghanistan this year. "My favorite part of serving has been acquiring a family I never imagined having. Being able to look at my brothers next to me full on knowing if I ever need anything in life, they’d answer my call."

Sgt. 1st Class Enrique Rodriguez

1057th Military Police Company, Nebraska National Guard

Rodriguez followed his brother, Fernando, into the Guard in 2008 and is a law enforcement officer in his civilian job. Now deployed with his brother to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield, he also served in the nation's capital this year as part of Operation Protect Democracy. "My favorite mission was when I deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border for a year in 2018 in support of Operation Guardian Support. I made many friends from all of the country and across all the branches of service."

Sgt. Fernando Rodriguez

1057th Military Police Company, Nebraska National Guard

Rodriguez joined the Army National Guard right out of high school in 2003 and is deployed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield. "So far, the most memorable part of mobilization is the great support from our families and friends in the unit," he says. When in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, he is the Military Funeral Honors zone leader, performing military funeral honors for those service members who have served primarily in the Army.

Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Rouse

149th Vertical Construction Company, Kentucky National Guard

Rouse, the son of a Marine, joined the Guard in 2006. He traveled to Djibouti, Africa, in August to support the State Partnership Program. One of his most memorable moments was working with a Djiboutian soldier trained to operate the unit’s iRobot PackBot to prevent casualties from explosives. He served in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007-2008.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jordan Watt

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation, Utah Army National Guard

Watt, an AH-64D pilot, joined the Guard in 2002. Missions he was a part of this year included JAMS-V at China Lake, California, and a deployment to Kandahar and Bagram, Afghanistan. An airline pilot in the civilian world, Watt particularly enjoys "learning the tactical employment of attack aircraft and the maintenance support required to fulfill that mission."