Six Airmen, representing the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s three bases, have been recognized as Wisconsin’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2016.
The six Airmen, who will compete against their peers across the country for the chance to be named the 2015 Air National Guard Outstanding Airman of the Year, include: Senior Airman Arteaga Ward of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Airman of the Year; Tech. Sgt. Kitrina Vargas of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year; Senior Master Sgt. Brian Carroll of the 115th Fighter Wing, Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year; Master Sgt. Michelle Marrerro of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, First Sergeant of the Year; Master Sgt. Kevin Lukas of Volk Field, Honor Guard Manager; and Staff Sgt. Jared Hildebrand of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Honor Guard Member.
A panel of five chief master sergeants reviewed dozens of Outstanding Airman nomination packets and selected the winners based on their 2015 achievements — primary job accomplishments, self-improvement, community service and physical fitness — as well as a records review and a written essay on being a professional in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
Ward is an air transportation journeyman assigned to the small air terminal at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee. Last January he completed a five-month deployment to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where he served as a ramp dispatcher. Upon his return to Wisconsin he took the place of a deployed full-time master sergeant and applied critical subject matter expertise to the cargo deployment function during the nuclear operation readiness inspection. He instructed five vehicle courses for members of the 128th Refueling Wing as well as the 115th Fighter Wing, and in August served as team chief in training during an annual tour of Osan Air Base in South Korea, ensuring 11 Airmen accomplished 245 training tasks. He spend the final two months of the year filling a logistics readiness master sergeant position.
Vargas, an air transportation craftsman, was the 128th Air Refueling Wing’s Airman of the Year in 2009. She completed a six-month deployment to Bagram Air Base in March 2015, where she served as assistant duty officer, information controller and ramp coordinator. During this challenging deployment she helped move 176,000 passengers and 129,000 short tons of cargo on 19,500 missions. She began a full-time logistics readiness position at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in November.
“I feel so privileged to be chosen to represent all of [the Wisconsin National Guard Airmen],” Vargas said. “Professionally, this is humbling, encouraging and challenging to me.”
Carroll is the 115th Fighter Wing’s Logistic Readiness Squadron Fuels Flight superintendent, directing 15 fuel sections to ensure uninterrupted fuel support to the Wing’s F-16s in support of their missions. He also secures and supplies fuel to the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, located near the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field in Madison, Wisconsin. His flight was named the Air National Guard’s best fuels flight in 2014.
Carroll also said he was humbled by the announcement.
“[I] have to totally thank my team,” he said. “It lets me know that I am doing some things correct as a supervisor, but gives me drive to improve daily and not let the Airmen below me down.”
Marrero is the Mission Support Group first sergeant with the 128th Air Refueling Wing. In addition to being named the 128th Air Refueling Wing’s First Sergeant of the Year for 2016, she earned that title in 2014, and was the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Noncomissioned Officer of the Year in 2011. She serves as the financial improvement audit readiness coordinator with the Wing’s Financial Management Office, and mentors three other first sergeants in the Mission Support Group.
Lukas is the deputy airfield manager for the Combat Readiness Training Center at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, where he coordinates and directs all activities related to airfield operations and airspace scheduling to ensure a safe flying environment on and around the airfield. He has been the Honor Guard manager at Volk Field since 2014.
“Personally, being an honor guard member is very rewarding on that all events are different, and you walk away with a sense of pride and accomplishment after each event,” Lukas said. “Being an honor guard member and manager has been more rewarding than anything else in my career — in being a part of this unique group, and working with the people around me to see their dedication toward this program.”
Hildebrand is an aerospace ground equipment journeyman with the 128th Air Refueling Wing. He volunteered to become an active member of the wing Honor Guard in 2011 and has participated in more than 100 honor guard events since then. He deployed to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, in January 2015, where he supported the mission to decisively employ air and space forces in the Asia-Pacific region. He completed his Airman leadership correspondence course in July 2015.
Vargas said she believes the Outstanding Airman of the Year competition highlights Airmen who are dedicated to the mission as well as caring for each other.
“They are looking for Airmen who seek to constantly improve themselves, Airmen eager and ambitious to lead,” she said.
Carroll said dedication factors into who advances in the Outstanding Airman of the Year.
“The main thing is to just give it 100 percent daily, keep you people happy and provide a safe and relaxed work atmosphere,” he said. “It’s all about creating a functional team that achieves the goals of the fighter wing. Being a team player, not a dictator.”
“The amount of time put in to make sure the program remains running and is successful,” he said. “You have to be dedicated in making sure this program continues, and I look at the honor guard as a program that must remain intact.”