908th holds first awards banquet in 4 years

  • Published
  • By Bradley J. Clark
  • 908th Airlift Wing

The 908th Airlift Wing held an awards banquet to honor annual award winners for the first time in four years Feb. 3, 2024, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

The last few years the wing had decided against an in-person awards banquet in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. But, considering all of the preventive and mitigating steps and measures the unit has taken the past four years, leadership felt the time was right to celebrate outstanding members in person once again.

“The former wing command team of Col. Craig Drescher, 908th AW commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Tracy Cornett, 908th AW command chief, initially came up with the idea of an in-person banquet this year,” said Master Sgt. Jeffery Davis, 908th Force Support Squadron 1st Sgt. “I recall one meeting where we discussed the importance of bringing back in-person events. Another factor was the remission. Once Chief Cornett departed, we had a brief hiatus on the planning phase regarding the type of awards banquet and location. Once Chief Master Sgt. Kristen Maloney [908th AW command chief] gave the go ahead for the planning of the event, The First Sergeant Council met with the Chief’s Group and the type of event was decided.”

As the Senior Enlisted Leader for the 908th AW, Maloney knows the secondary and tertiary effects an event like this can have on an organization and its members.

“An Awards banquet is an essential retention tool and ensures our Airmen feel valued, appreciated and trusted for their contributions they made towards the overall mission,” explained Maloney. “Recognition is another way to establish connection and inclusion with the overall intent is to keep motivation fueled and morale high. By making it in person it provides a means to enrich in our heritage, customs and courtesies reminding us why we wear the uniform and pulls on that emotional cord where you’re feeling the comradery and overall pride for being part of an elite organization.”

With her knowing the importance, it was easy for Maloney to say yes when the 1st Sgt. Council proposed the event.

“Our First Shirt Council recognized the timing was right to afford this experience to the wing and started planning to make it happen,” explained Maloney. “The silver lining in all of this is recognizing our Airmen, both the nominees and award winners.”

Now came the hard part, the board had to convene and review every awards package, and select winners for each category.

“It was not easy for the board to do this,” recalls Maloney, who happens to be the head of the awards board. “We have phenomenal, talented, educated, experienced and most of all passionate Airmen who are doing remarkable things. This year’s nominations were made up of Airmen who sought out opportunities, thought outside of the box, took action, are resourceful and creative. They found ways to make improvements and efficiencies, stepped forward and led, took initiative, worked above expected skillset and level of responsibility. The other aspect is the leaders that marked their great accomplishments and worked on getting them nominated. This sort of event and the work that leads up to it truly takes a village and a committed group of professionals that start with our nominees, their social support structure, personal or professional, to supervisors, commanders and our own private organizations Chiefs Council, Top III, and our Maxwell Club team.”

Having difficulty with institutional memory - the 908th AW’s current First Sergeant Council has no members that were on the council during the last in-person awards banquet Feb. 1, 2020, - the task of making the event a success was going to be difficult.

“We started planning around late January, early February 2023,” recalled Davis. “It starts with the choice of venue, and it took us a couple of meetings to solidify the location and it was mainly selected for tradition and affordability.”

According to Davis, the First Sergeant Council has to start early because of all of requirements to host a successful event. Location, guest speakers, emcees, military professional traditions, tickets, programs, advertisement, coordinating with all the involved squadrons, and most of all, fundraising. The wing contributes by purchasing the awards for the banquet. In rare cases, they may receive donations from Airmen’s civilian employers.

“Fundraising is one of the biggest challenges due to the restrictions placed on how the Council chooses to raise money. We have to rely on funds from other sources to pay for the event. This year The First Sergeant Council held two fundraising events to raise much needed funds but the main source for funding comes from the tickets sales to the actual event.”

To Davis and the rest of the council, the value in ensuring an in-person banquet was clear.

“I think Covid took a lot of connection away from people and we became used to [virtual] meetings, reschedules, and Airmen forgot was it was like to feel camaraderie and pride within a unit or squadron,” explained Davis. “One of our biggest opportunities to boost Airmen’s morale is by awarding them for their great accomplishments. These are so beneficial for personal growth and mission accomplishment so, the meaning of receiving these awards can best be served with a large celebration.”

After all of the hard work preparing for the event, it was time to see if it would be a success.

Starting with the presentation of colors and the National Anthem, there was an Invocation and then the nominees were introduced to the audience. There was a POW/MIA table ceremony prior to the buffet dinner, then came the event’s guest speaker, retired 908th AW Command Chief, Owen Duke, who spoke on the importance of the Air Force’s core values along with discipline and trust.

Following Duke’s speech, the audience was ready for the main event, the announcement of the winners for each category.

Airman of the Year: Senior Airman Carter Grice, 908th Civil Engineer Squadron

Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Tech. Sgt. Vincent Senegar, 908th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

Senior NCO of the Year: Master Sgt. Matthew Chandler, 908th AMXS

Company Grade Officer of the Year: 1st Lt. Terry Ruff, 908th AMXS

First Sergeant of the Year: Master Sgt. Edward Melendez, 908th Aeromedical Staging Squadron

Key Spouse of the Year: Mrs. Ashley Tucker, 908th CES

Civilian Category III of the Year: Ms. Katrina Lee, 908th Force Support Squadron

The size and scope of an event like this can be overwhelming to some, but for it to be successful, the whole unit has to come together.

“When coordinating this event, I Initially thought only a few organizations were involved in the planning but as you walk through the process, I immediately discovered every squadron in our wing needed to be onboard to ensure an event created pride and feeling of patriotism,” said Davis. “Many Airmen in our unit only felt this in basic training and, because of Covid, it became easier to forget about our traditions. This awards banquet has given us the opportunity to recapture our ‘why’ and now because of the transition, for them the ‘who’ we are as well.”

Maloney echoed Davis’s sentiment while expounding on the benefit to the wing and its members.

“It is an opportunity to create new relationships and connections and continue to grow and further develop existing relationships with one another,” explained Maloney. “The evening gifts us a moment to pause and to truly get to learn about each other and celebrate the great accomplishments achieved within the past year and recognize our top performing Airmen. By having that moment of time, it creates cohesion that generates a high-performance team and strengthens our lethality as Wing.”

The banquet was closed with a speech from Wing Commander, Col. Christopher Lacouture, who was grateful for all the hard work that went in to ensuring an event was had.

“I love this wing,” said Lacouture. “I’m so happy that all of you are here to help celebrate these amazing wing members and all the great things we have accomplished over the last year. I know we will continue the great work as this year is an even bigger year for the 908th Airlift Wing.”