National Guard Best of 2023

Master Sgt. Ashley Bradford

126th Air Refueling Wing, Illinois Air National Guard

Bradford, an inflight refueling craftsman, joined the Guard almost 20 years ago to travel and help pay for college. She deployed in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020. A highlight of her service was the 2008 flood response in Illinois and helping a farmer protect his land by shoring up levies. "I am honored to be recognized and love to share my passion for what we do in the wing and how we serve our communities, making the world better anytime and anywhere."

Sgt. 1st Class William T. Bushhousen

A Company, 2-134th Infantry Battalion (Airborne), Nebraska Army National Guard

Bushhousen, currently serving in the Horn of Africa, joined the Guard in 2012. He deployed to Iraq in 2016-17. He says the highlight of his service has been the countless opportunities the Nebraska Guard has provided, including travel across much of the United States and to several countries. On one trip, he trained with the French Army in Africa. "Our ability to jump with the French was an excellent opportunity to cross train with our international partners. Crosstraining strengthens ties and builds trust between nations as we continue to work together in multiple theaters around the world."

Staff Sgt Joshua Chadderdon

133rd Airlift Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard

Chadderdon, a loadmaster, joined the Guard in 2019 and is deployed to Africa. Highlights include a Mississippi training exercise, making friends in Germany during the Air Defender mission, and Operation Welcome Allies, helping Afghan refugees arriving in New Jersey. He also participated in the Norwegian Regional Troop Exchange this year as part of the State Partnership Program. "This observance reminded me why I joined. I love new adventures, learning new things, and building deep and meaningful relationships with everyone I meet. The Norwegian Reciprocal Exchange is the best example of an opportunity that covers all three of these reasons for joining."

Maj. Patrick Duffey

143 Airlift Squadron, Rhode Island Air National Guard

Duffey was active-duty military beginning in 2009 and joined the Air Guard in 2022. "When my active-duty commitment was up, I wanted to continue serving my country but wanted to be closer to family. I was an experienced C-130J pilot and the RIANG has a long tradition of flying the C-130J, so it was a good fit for both me and the 143 AS." As chief of international training, he leads a team of 15 Airmen. The Rhode Island Air National Guard is helping train pilots and loadmasters with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The highlight of the military: "Getting to serve with some amazing people and build relationships."

Senior Master Sgt. Rina V. Elloso

194th Force Support Squadron, Washington Air National Guard

Elloso said goodbye to the beach life in Hawaii and followed her brother and sister into the Air Force in 2006. She deployed to Malaysia this year and has served in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Iraq. Highlights of her military career include traveling and learning about different cultures. "Most importantly, seeing our Airmen excel and move forward in their careers. I find that to be very rewarding."

Senior Master Sgt. Brad Gardebrecht

133rd Airlift Wing/75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron/ HV-12 Home Guard Vaernes Norway, Minnesota Air National Guard

Gardebrecht became a Guardsman in 1997 "to be part of protecting the American way of life and helping to ensure the limitless opportunities our country provides." He is on a U.S. Africa Command mission and previously deployed for Operation Swift Response in Lithuania/Hungary in 2021 and a State Partnership Program Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange. "The highlight of this exchange was the in-depth cold weather immersion techniques the Norwegians have implemented to mitigate frostbite and other cold weather injuries."

Staff Sgt Matthew Giddens

438th Chemical Company, Indiana Army National Guard

Giddens joined the Guard in 2015 for the educational benefits "and ended up staying because of the people and experiences." He participated in a NATO exercise along the Turkish coast in 2018 and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear live agent training in Slovakia the same year. The Indiana Guard and Slovakia are partners through the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. Giddens plans to attend Officer Candidate School in 2024.

Maj. Shana Godfred-Cato

151st Medical Group, Utah Air National Guard

Godfred-Cato joined the Army Guard in 2010 and the Air Guard in 2023 to serve Soldiers and their families. A pediatrician, she deployed this year for the African Lion exercise. Her favorite part of serving was caring for children in Morocco and teaching Soldiers about medical care for children. "In the miliatry, we spend a lot of time caring for Soldiers (as we should), but being able to care for children in a foreign country with limited access to medical care was extremely rewarding. I enjoyed working with medics and other Airmen about how children's medical needs may be different from those needs of adults." In 2020 at Al Asad Airbase, under attack by ballistic missiles from Iran, she cared for Soldiers with traumatic brain injuries.

Lt. Col. Muzinat Hoover

Headquarters, 219th Engineer Brigade, Indiana Army National Guard

Hoover, a Bronze Star recipient, joined the Guard in 2003 to serve her state and nation. She has deployed to Afghanistan and traveled to Niger and Slovakia for exchanges with partner nations under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The Niger mission "was the most impactful and highlights the diverse mission sets that the Guard participates in. The Guard is able to complete a wide range of missions because Guard personnel come from a wider range of experiences."

Staff Sgt. Darian Kaczmar

633rd Theater Gateway Personnel Accountability Team, Illinois Army National Guard

Kaczmar joined the Guard more than 10 years ago, "driven by a deep-seated desire for a greater purpose and to feel a profound sense of responsibility. Being the first in my family to enlist, I aimed to set an example for my sister and contribute to something larger than myself." Witnessing the growth of fellow Soldiers early in their careers is the highlight of her service. Now deployed to Kuwait, she considers the Best of the Guard observance a tremendous honor. "It signifies not only personal achievement, but also a reflection of the dedication and the hard work put into my military career. This observation motivates me to strive for excellence and inspires my fellow Soldiers knowing that our contributions are valued."

Spc. Andrew Leach

438th Chemical Company, Indiana Army National Guard

Leach, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist, joined the Guard in 2019. His first missions were during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping at assisted living facilities and vaccination sites. He also participated in a State Partnership Program exchange in Slovakia. Leach said this month's observance "means to me that what I do feels like it truly matters. Our training is the difference maker to saving lives and preventing a worse outcome. Also a brighter future with our allies and friends overseas."

Staff Sgt. Joshua Makievsky

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 125 Infantry, Michigan Army National Guard

Makievsky joined the Guard in 2011 "to travel and serve my country." He says deploying is what he likes best about the Guard, and he is in Syria for the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve mission.

Sgt. Logan Martinez

Charlie Troop, 1-134th Cavalry Squadron (IBCT), Nebraska Army National Guard

Martinez, a cavalry scout, has served almost six years, including a deployment to Kuwait. "My favorite part of serving has been the friends I have been able to make from my home state of Nebraska but also all over the world after my overseas mobilization." Martinez says he is proud to be recognized this month "because it is an opportunity to represent my organization and the diverse training that is available to National Guard Soldiers."

Senior Airman Tabari Matthews

189th Medical Group, Arkansas Air National Guard

Matthews joined the Guard in 2020, seeking guidance and discipline. A dental assistant, he participated in a State Partnership Program medical mission to Guatemala. "Supporting this mission was a life-changing experience for me to give back and be a part of something bigger than myself. It was an honor to be able to assist in caring for the members of our state partner, benefiting the health and well-being of the Guatemalan people and the bond between Arkansas and Guatemala."

Spc. Gage McGill

Charlie Troop 1-134th Cavalry Squadron (IBCT), Nebraska Army National Guard

McGill joined the Guard in 2019 "to serve my country, learn important skills, and be part of a strong community." He deployed for Operation Spartan Shield in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. This observance "is a tremendous honor and validation of the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices made in service to my country. It not only acknowledges individual efforts but also reflects the collective commitment of our platoon, reinforcing the importance of unity and excellence in achieving our mission."

Capt. Taylor M. Payne

1-168, General Support Aviation Battalion, Washington Army National Guard

Payne joined the Guard in 2011, continuing a family legacy of service dating to the Civil War. He has responded to state fires several times and helped the Royal Thai Army with aviation standardization, maintenance, tech supply and logistics support during a State Partnership Program exchange. "I have made lifelong friendships and been able to serve Soldiers in many different capacities that allowed an amount of personal growth I don’t think possible from any other organization. The National Guard has allowed me to travel all over the world, interacting with a multitude of different cultures and people, broadening my global view."

Capt. Cody Pierce

Cyber Protection Team 175, Detachment 1, Kentucky Army National Guard

Pierce joined the Guard in 2013 — "one of the best decisions I have ever made because of the amazing opportunities that the Kentucky National Guard has given me and my family." He participated in State Partnership Program exercises in Ecuador and Romania. Pierce is transitioning to the military occupational specialty of cyber operations officer. He said he is honored to be part of the Best of the Guard observance. "It is a great way to highlight some of the lesser-known opportunities available to Soldiers. The SPP program is an important part of building relationships with countries and is very important to the cyber domain because sharing knowledge and experience increases the overall defensive posture of all nations involved."

1st Lt. Jacob Remick

Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), Rhode Island National Guard

Remick, an infantry officer, has served in the Guard for more than 10 years, including a recent deployment to Kosovo. "My decision to serve as a member of the National Guard has shaped me into who I am today. From education benefits, international competitions, and world travel opportunities, I feel I can better contribute to society and the security of our nation."

Staff Sgt. Christopher Schmid

Alpha Company, 2-134th Infantry Battalion (Airborne), Nebraska Army National Guard

Schmid joined the Guard in 2008. He is serving in the Horn of Africa and deployed to Afghanistan for 11 months in 2011 and Kuwait for six months in 2016-17. Schmid has trained with paratroopers from around the world and considers being part of an airborne unit the highlight of his military career. "There a few things more exciting than jumping from an aircraft just 1,000 feet in the air! Being a jumpmaster is one of my favorite duties. I’m in charge of not only training the Soldiers in the correct techniques and procedures, but also ensuring the safety of all personnel during operations."

Sgt. 1st Class Eli Shultz

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 125 Infantry, Michigan Army National Guard

Shultz joined the military more than 19 years ago to serve his country. He is deployed to Syria for the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve mission and says deploying is the highlight of his service.

Spc. Estefania Solis

Higher Headquarters Company, 1-69th Infantry, New York Army National Guard

Solis joined the Guard in 2018, two weeks after moving to New York from Panama for college. "I’ve always been passionate about crime and justice and felt that joining the Army would allow me to be a part of something bigger while helping people around me." During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped the medical examiner's office and served the vaccination mission at Yankee Stadium. She also deployed to Africa. "I got to participate in different courses and activities during my time there, with the highlight being the Marines Corporals Course, which made me realize that I can only accomplish certain things if I step out of my comfort zone."

Senior Airman Kyle Spriggs

109th Security Forces Squadron, New York National Guard

Spriggs joined the Guard in 2020 "to show my kids that it's never too late to pursue something you want to accomplish in life." He deployed to Qatar in 2022 and to Africa this year for a skills competition. Spriggs said being recognized for this observance means a lot to him. "I continue to show my kids that with hard work and dedication that anyone can continue to grow and achieve things even with unforeseen obstacles at any point in life. This lets me know to continue working hard and adding to the team. It shows me that I'm going in a positive direction and I should continue to do what I'm doing and work hard to influence those around me."

Staff Sgt. Antonio Stepan

133rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Minnesota Air National Guard

Stepan, a C-130H crew chief, joined the Guard in 2018. "I love everything about the community and how many different opportunities there are. I have always wanted to serve in some capacity and I happened to find the perfect job that is also one of my biggest hobbies." Stepan is deployed to Africa and has served in eight countries, including Operation Swift Response, the largest paratroop airdrop in Eastern Europe since World War II. "I’m honored that I was able to serve in these exercises and deployments. The lifelong memories that have been made on such trips will stay with me forever."

Sgt. Nicolas White

1st Battalion, 122d Regiment, Regional Training Institute, Georgia National Guard

White, a former Marine, said he joined the Guard in 2019 because he missed the military lifestyle. "My favorite moment was smiling through the state Best Warrior Competition quoting (retired Navy SEAL) David Goggins every chance I got." He says he hopes the Best of the Guard observance "means that if I can be an example of how to have a positive attitude through different challenges, then others will see the benefits of that and use the positivity to go about their own lives."