Guard's '08 Airmen of the Year announced, honored

WASHINGTON -- The Air National Guard identified its six Airmen of the Year (AOY) for 2008 following their arrival here June 15 for a week-long celebration and tribute to their achievements.

This year's AOYs were chosen through a process of unit, state and national selection panels and included the ranks of senior airman through senior master sergeant. The 2008 AOYs are:

· Airman of the Year: Senior Airman Charity Orriss, Security Forces journeyman, 168th Air Refueling Wing, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska

· Noncommissioned Officer (NCO): Staff Sgt. Scott Geisser, Combat Control journeyman, 125th Special Tactics Squadron, Portland, Ore.

· Senior NCO: Senior Master Sgt. Donna Goodno, Communications-Computer Systems operations superintendent, 147th Combat Communications Squadron, San Diego, Calif.

· First Sergeant: Master Sgt. Daniel Mitchell Jr., First Sergeant, 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey

· Honor Guard Member: Senior Master Sgt. Rolando Garza, Fire Protection supervisor, 110th Civil Engineering Squadron, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan

· Honor Guard Program Manager: Tech. Sgt. Raquel Soto, Services craftsman, 105th Services Flight, Stewart ANGB, New York

The group was presented with coins, plaques and many other rewards in more than half dozen formal and informal ceremonies June 15-19. The Guardmembers toured the National Capital Region including the Pentagon, Capitol and Senate buildings, Arlington National Cemetery and other historic sites. They were commended by the Guard's senior leaders including Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Air Guard director; Col. Joseph Lengyel, Air Guard Readiness Center commander; and Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard Smith, Air Guard command chief.

"When you think about what makes our units - it's these great people," McKinley said to the group at a welcome reception June 15, Father's Day, at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington. "You are the best of the best," he declared.

One of McKinley's "best," First Sergeant of the Year Mitchell, also earned the distinction of 1st Air Force's First Sergeant of the Year.

Mitchell said he was happy to have his 8-year-old son, Daniel, with him on Father's Day and throughout the week's events. Both traveled from their hometown near Atlantic City, N.J., where Mitchell works full time in local law enforcement and serves as first sergeant for the 177th Security Forces Squadron.

"He was the one who was most affected by my deployment," said Mitchell about his son and his recent deployment to Afghanistan. "This is a great opportunity to come down here, meet the leadership and show my son the important role we play in the military."

Mitchell credited his achievement to serving as a first sergeant in Afghanistan. There, he managed more than 450 active-duty and reserve Airmen. "I was fortunate," he said. "I had some really dedicated, committed Airmen who volunteered to go and make that country better." It was those Airmen, Mitchell said, who allowed his success as a first sergeant.

Like Mitchell, Orriss is also one of Pacific Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

Orriss' accomplishments sprang from her assignment at the 168th Security Forces Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. She has since been reassigned to the Alaska Air Guard's 212th Rescue Squadron as a combat arms trainer.

Orriss, who admitted she had never shot a weapon before she joined the Guard three years ago, deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2007 as a security forces specialist and .50-cal gunner on a six-member patrol team, which secured the base's perimeter.

"Everyone I deployed with were more than deserving of this recognition," she said of her AOY accomplishment. "They all went above and beyond during their duties."

But until next year's winners are announced, Orriss said she will take on a "great responsibility" to represent security forces as well as Airmen everywhere.

The other Airmen of the Year, Geisser, Goodno, Garza and Soto, served with distinction and accomplished much last year, but they gave similar, modest answers this week by pointing out teams and fellow Airman as the reasons to their successes.

As one of only a handful of Air Guard combat controllers, officials said Geisser "played a vital role" in the combat readiness of his special tactics squadron, performed stateside humanitarian missions and deployed overseas last year to support combat operations in Iraq.

Goodno earned two associate degrees, volunteered time in her community as well as volunteered to serve in Iraq as maintenance superintendent for the 447th Air Expeditionary Squadron.

Soto coordinated joint honor guard details between Air Guard, Army Guard and Marine Corps servicemembers for functions that included the retirement of New York's adjutant general and the dedication of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

Garza served on his base's honor guard team as an additional duty to full-time firefighting. During his recent deployment to Sather Air Base, Iraq, Garza volunteered his time as NCO-in-charge for an honor guard flight and worked "Patriot" details, which rendered honors to fallen servicemembers.

"We've got to know these six outstanding Airmen, said the Command Chief Smith, during their awards ceremony June 17 at the Air Guard Readiness Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Md. "They truly represent the 93,000 men and women in the Air National Guard that wear stripes on their sleeves. They represent our best."

The Army Guard will announce its Soldier and NCO of the year this August.