National Guard Celebrates Best of 2022

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Staff Sgt. Pete Ancheta

204th Intelligence Squadron, New Jersey National Guard

Ancheta, an intelligence operations analyst, has served in the Guard since 2015. He deployed this year for Operation Allies Welcome and to South Korea for combined command post training. Welcoming Afghan refugees to the United States was a highlight for him. "You see how you’re making a difference in their lives, and you see how appreciative they are for the smallest acts of kindness. There’s nothing that comes close to this kind of experience, and I look forward to future humanitarian opportunities."

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gregory Backus

Cyber & Information Advantage Battalion, National Guard Professional Education Center

Backus, a cyberspace defense warrant officer, joined the Guard in 1995. He was the lead planner for Cyber Shield 2022 when the Department of Defense's largest unclassified cyber exercise was moved to the Professional Education Center on Camp Robinson roughly 90 days before the event was to take place.

Sgt. Martin Ballesteros

217th Brigade Support Battalion, Arkansas Army National Guard

Ballesteros, a 10-year Guard member, deployed to Syria in 2022 and served in Guatemala on a State Partnership Program mission. "Coming from a Hispanic/Latino family, it brings a great amount of pride when I put on my uniform and see my last name right next to that American flag. I'm proud that I can help protect the freedom of this beautiful country of ours and honor those who have as well."

Staff Sgt. Jessica Cruz

109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard

Cruz joined the Guard in 2017, following her now retired twin sister. They both follow the advice of a mentor to “make yourself invaluable, read everything and understand the regulation.” Cruz served at COVID-19 test and distribution sites in 2022 and was headed to the South Pole to support the National Science Foundation on a two-month mission. In her civilian life, she is a corrections officer.

Staff Sgt. John Cunningham

176th Maintenance Squadron, Alaska National Guard

Cunningham joined the Guard in 2017 after serving in the Marine Corps. He mobilized this year to respond to Typhoon Merbok, a highlight of his service. Responding to disasters is "a big reason for our existence as a state entity, and when you can go out and do humanitarian work, it’s rewarding in so many ways. You meet new, great people, do and see things you have never seen before, and you get to do what we train to do as Guardians, which is serve your neighbor."

Capt. Beau DeLeon

108th Operations Support Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard

Deleon, a KC-135 instructor pilot, joined the Guard in 2009 to serve his country, fly and see the world. He deployed this year to Guam, flying missions to Japan, and participated in a State Partnership Program exchange with Albania.

Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey M. DeMille

167th Airlift Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard

After serving for 23 years in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves, DeMille joined the Air Guard in 2012. He was activated four times this year to support the Air Mobility Command inspector general as an augmenting inspector for one large readiness exercise in New York and unit effectiveness inspection capstone events at air wings in Kentucky, Arkansas and at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Airman 1st Class Joshua Fleming

176th Civil Engineering Squadron, Alaska National Guard

Fleming moved to Alaska in 2019 and decided to stay and join the Guard. This year, he deployed to Nome to help respond to Typhoon Merbok and supported a Special Olympics Hawaii Innovative Readiness Training construction project. He is a firefighter. "My favorite part of serving is the opportunity to help my fellow Alaskans."

Tech Sgt. Erica Esmeralda Gonzalez

113th Security Forces Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard

A Guardsman for 12 years, Gonzalez deployed to Qatar this year and supported the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Agile Combat Employment mission, Operation Sentinel and Operation Spartan Shield. "My favorite part of serving is helping others out and being able to serve along so many amazing humans that bring a wealth of knowledge that strengthen our armed forces."

1st Lt. Jamie Greenberg

204th Airlift Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard

Greenberg, a C-17 pilot, has served in the Guard for four years. A highlight of his deployment to Germany this year was flying 70,000 lbs. of baby formula from Germany to Indianapolis to help alleviate a critical shortage in the United States. "The C-17 is incredibly versatile: We’ve moved helicopters for our NATO partners in Europe, supported exercises for the Marines in the Pacific, and have helped move Coast Guard boats across the United States." Greenberg is also part of the C-17 community that provides search and rescue for astronauts.

Sgt. Pedro L. Fonseca Hernández

181st Area Support Medical Company, 191st Regional Support Group, Puerto Rico National Guard

Needing work, Fonseca joined the Guard in 2005. "Soon after I joined, I understood I had a bigger purpose in the Army." He deployed this year to Honduras for the Continuing Promise mission, part of the State Partnership Program. "The highlight for me was when I felt the Hondurans’ appreciation. Every time, they thanked us respectfully for helping them."

Sgt. Austin Manville

Troop C, 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry, New York Army National Guard

Manville joined the Guard in 2018 "to serve my country." He is deployed to the Horn of Africa as part of Task Force Wolfhound, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry. When home, he also serves on the Honor Guard. A highlight of his service: "Representing my unit and New York at the national-level Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition and U.S. Army Best Squad Competition."

Staff Sgt. Rivera Neris

276th Military Police Company, Puerto Rico National Guard

Rivera Neris joined the Guard in 2011 and deployed this year to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "My favorite aspect of serving is having the chance to serve alongside people from different places who have different religions, beliefs and ideals, and working together for a common cause. I believe that diversity breeds strength, and no nation is as diverse as the United States."

Staff Sgt. Gabriel Pagan

103 Airlift Wing, 103 Civil Engineer Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard

Pagan joined the Air Guard in 2015. His military occupational specialty is fire and emergency services and he serves as a firefighter in his civilian job. He is preparing to deploy to Africa after returning from a Jordan mission this year. A highlight of that deployment was training with and building relationships with members of the German air force.

Capt. Alexandra Pagoni

103d Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard

Pagoni, a C-130H mobility and tactical airlift pilot, joined the Guard in 2017 because she wanted to be an Air Force pilot like her father and grandfather. She has deployed this year to Djibouti and for Exercise Swift Response in Italy. Her favorite part of serving "is having the opportunity to travel all over the world and be able to work with our sister services, as well as international militaries. These invaluable opportunities have allowed me to become a better pilot, leader and teammate."

Tech Sgt. John Echevarria Perez

108 Security Forces Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard

Perez has served in the Guard for 14 years and is a police officer in civilian life. He deployed to Africa in 2022 and relishes the friendships he has made and memories from his time in military uniform. "My favorite part of serving is getting to meet new people from all over the world."

Capt. Jennifer F. Petrow

103d Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard

Petrow, a C-130H mobility pilot, has served in the Air Guard for six years and deployed this year to Djibouti and to Europe for Exercise Swift Response. Her favorite part of serving has been volunteering in Djiboutian communities. "I have had the humbling opportunity to go to multiple community recreation and learning centers, a wildlife refuge, an orphanage, and also vaccinate hundreds of goats for the local plague that has been spreading throughout their population. The time spent with the locals was meaningful to them as well as impactful memories that I will carry forward with me throughout my life."

Sgt. 1st Class Zach Scuncio

115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard

Scuncio, a military police officer and platoon sergeant, joined the Guard in 2010 "because my grandfather was a patriot and I wanted to follow in his footsteps." He is the Rhode Island National Guard's State Partnership Program coordinator and has participated in three SPP missions in the Bahamas. Scuncio also is member of the Rhode Island National Guard Biathlon Team and captain of the Rhode Island Minutemen Hockey Team.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Sherlock

188th Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard

Sherlock joined the Guard in 2017 to jumpstart his career and serve others. He deployed to Japan and for a State Partnership Program mission in Guatemala this year. "Guatemala broadened my experience with new cultures and the joint capabilities of our armed forces. I was able to interact with locals and see them receive care from U.S. and foreign military personnel."

Capt. Justin Shimasaki

204th Airlift Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard

Shimasaki, a Guardsman since 2017, is a C-17 pilot who helped fly baby formula from Europe to the United States this year. Missions this year have taken him to Poland, Niger, Mali, Iceland, the Netherlands, Jordan, Senegal, Greece, Italy, Spain, England, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Bahrain, Diego Garcia and Guam. The highlight: "Serving and representing my home state of Hawaii through missions that have a grand scale, sometimes world-level, impact."

Tech. Sgt. William Tejeda

156th Security Forces Squadron, Puerto Rico Air National Guard

Tejeda has served since 2009, including this year in the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan for Operation Allies Refuge. "My most memorable moment was being part of the team that helped evacuate innocent Afghan civilians and U.S. embassy employees into safety."

Airman 1st Class Leinz Vales

108th Security Forces Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard

Vales joined the Guard in 2020 "out of a desire to pass on a legacy of honor and valor to my son." A journalist in his civilian life, Vales deployed to Agadez, Niger, in 2022 and led a 15K ruck/walk for 15 fallen Security Forces defenders. "Journalists can capture moments in history, but a U.S. service member can help shape that moment in history for the good and betterment of our society."

Maj. Stephen Young

Joint Force Headquarters, Kentucky Army National Guard

Young, a 20-year Guard member, participated in a State Partnership Program exchange with Djibouti this year and contributed to the U.S. Southern Command Operation Tradewinds 2022, which included planning, resourcing and installing communications for Combat Net Radios, AN/PRC-150s, satellite messaging handhelds and satellite phones for use at multiple locations in Belize and Mexico.