At Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Staff Sgt. Matthew Romano of the 354th Maintenance Squadron approached Tech. Sgt. Brian Kolk with a problem—the trailers used to transport the canopies for the bases’ F-35 fighters were “virtually impossible” to use in the snow, a problem six months out of the year at Eielson. In just a few days, Kolk was able to design a way to attach pneumatic tire axles to the original canopy transport trailer, and the two connected with a local vendor for supplies and materials. Now, the “winter configuration” trailer adapter ensures they can keep the F-35 ready to go in any conditions.
Capt. Samuel “RaZZ” Larson is taking over as commander and pilot of the F-22 Demonstration Team, after Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mark D. Kelly certified the team ahead of the 2023 air show schedule. An experienced aviator with more than 750 flying hours, Larson has flown the T-6 Texan, T-38 Talon, and F-22 Raptor since he began his Air Force career in 2015. Now, he’ll be responsible for leading the demonstration team in showcasing the unmatched maneuverability of the Air Force’s fifth-generation air dominance stealth fighter, as well as highlighting the history of the Air Force’s service through heritage formation flights.
Airman Emma Gantner, a military postal clerk with the 786th Force Support Squadron, earned the prestigious gold German Armed Forces Military Proficiency Badge recently, acing the famed test that includes five events ranging from a swim to a run and first-aid test within the allotted time. In this round of testing, Gantner was one of 22 recipients from NATO countries, and the only woman to participate. She earned the top possible overall score of A+++, and can now wear the badge on her uniform—it is one of a few foreign military badges authorized to be worn by U.S. Air Force, Army, and Space Force members.
In a special ceremony Nov. 15, Tech. Sgt. Juwon Williams received a Stripes for Exception Performers promotion to the rank of technical sergeant at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The STEP program authorizes commanders to directly promote a select few members performing at a level beyond their current rank without going through the usual Weighted Airman Promotion System, a significant accomplishment for an enlisted member. Williams serves as the 586th Test Squadron Munitions Systems NCO, helping Airmen from different career fields work together.
Staff Sgt. Kyle Mergeler, of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Wing, was driving to a drill in early November when he was flagged down. Turning around and getting out of his car, Mergeler saw an unconscious man on the sidewalk and performed five minutes of life-saving CPR before emergency medical service personnel arrived to help. He helped first responders ensure the man was OK. Mergeler, a Religious Affairs Airman, was later recognized by Oregon Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel and Oregon ANG Commander Brig. Gen. Donna Prigmore.
Maj. Michael Madden, an HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot from the 563rd Rescue Group, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor in a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., on Dec. 12, along with eight other Airmen from the unit being honored for their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan in January 2020 and August 2021. Other HH-60G aviators were also awarded the Air Medal with Valor, and a pair of pararescuemen from the 355th Wing were awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Tech. Sgt. Jake Harris, a member of the 328th Weapons Squadron in the Space Force’s Space Training and Readiness Command, made history in November as one of the first four recipients of the Polaris Awards, a newly formed program comparable to the Air Force’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year Awards. The Polaris Awards are based on the Space Force core values: Character, Connection, Commitment and Courage, and Harris received the “Commitment” award. As a member of the Space Force’s weapons school, he helped develop and graduate weapons officers and advanced instructors.
On his honeymoon in Hawaii, Staff Sgt. Harris Belmonte was taking photos with his spouse in early November when they heard screams for help. Rushing over, Belmonte, a critical-care shift lead with the 60th Inpatient Operations Squadron, saw bystanders trying to help an unconscious man but were performing incorrect CPR techniques. Stepping in, he utilized his training in critical situations and rendered several rounds of CPR, attaining a pulse and weak breathing from the patient that first responders were eventually able to maintain.
Airman 1st Class Zachary Rodriguez, an F-35 Mechanical Apprentice Crew Chief at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., got a special opportunity one day in late December to work with the military working dog trainers at the 341st Training Squadron—and honor his own father’s service. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Rodriguez was a Special Operations dog handler and was killed in Ana Kalay, Afghanistan, on Sept. 2, 2008. He said, “I [did] like to see and follow my dad’s footsteps and see what he did. … I think this was a really cool experience.”
Members of the Space Force’s Space Delta 6 were gathered for a hike and morale event at Manitou Springs, Colo., on Nov. 9, when they noticed smoke early on in their climb. Inspecting further, Capt. Justin Ditter, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Akers, Master Sgt. Kristopher Chesslo, Tech. Sgt. John Mendoza, Sgt. Dominick Cuervo, Sgt. Daniel Shanks, Sgt. Kavion Wee, and Ashley Anacker discovered the start of a wildfire, with flames starting to grow. The Guardians used water bottles, sports drinks, and even dirt to keep the fire contained for more than an hour until first responders arrived.