• Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Luke Olson
  • 114th Fighter Wing

The South Dakota Air National Guard announced its Outstanding Airmen of the Year during an annual awards ceremony Jan. 6, 2019 at Joe Foss Field, S.D. 

Airman 1st Class Charlotte Ekeren, 114th Maintenance Squadron munitions specialist, was recognized as the SDANG Outstanding Airman of the Year. “A1C Ekeren always looks out for her wingman, displayed outstanding follower-ship and leadership skills, and went above and beyond what was needed to accomplish the mission,” said her supervisor, Master Sgt. Nick Blumer, 114th Maintenance Squadron, munitions specialist. 

Tech. Sgt. Mathieson Smith, 114th Maintenance Squadron quality assurance inspector, was recognized as the SDANG Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. “Mathieson’s continuous work at improving himself, others around him, and the maintenance group as a whole has made him a standout among his peers,” said Smith’s supervisor, Chief Master Sgt. Brett Cownie, 114th Quality Assurance superintendent. 

Chief Master Sgt. Daniel McNeil, 114th Civil Engineer Squadron operations superintendent, was recognized as the SDANG Outstanding Senior NCO of the Year. “I nominated Chief McNeil for Airman of the Year for one reason, impact. He has impact on our squadron processes, our Airmen, and our deployments,” said McNeil’s supervisor, Maj. Lance Niewenhuis, 114th Civil Engineer Squadron commander. “He impacts me as a commander with strategic insight from the enlisted perspective and demands honesty and integrity from all our Airmen. The excellence of the CES is directly attributable to Chief McNeil’s leadership.”

Master Sgt. Carmen Taylor, 114th Security Forces Squadron First Sergeant, received the SDANG Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year award. “1st Sergeant Taylor quickly took advantage of formal training, education, and deployment opportunities to secure subject expertise in her recent career field assignment,” said Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Greer, 114th FW 1st. Sergeant. “She has inserted herself as an instrumental leader in her organization’s daily mission. She flawlessly executed duties on two separate deployments within months of leadership assignment and she currently serves as a mentor to her squadron and fellow first sergeants.” 

Selected from more than 1000 citizen-Airmen in the SDANG the four recipients represent the top performers at the wing level. Nominations are based only on the member’s performance and achievements from the prior year. 

A wing selection board reviewed nomination packages and conducted formal in-person interviews for all group-level nominees during November’s unit training assembly. Selections were made based on superior leadership, job performance, community involvement, and personal achievements. 

“With the quality of Airmen that we have at the 114th Fighter Wing these boards can become extremely difficult to determine and often come down to a matter of points where not just the package and interview content is the deciding factor,” said Chief Master Sgt. Zona Hornstra, 114th Fighter Wing Command Chief. “We need to go back and review personal appearance, military bearing, communication skills, professional military education, other civilian education, fitness history, and career opportunities that have influenced the service member for the nomination period from 1 Jan. to 31 Dec.” 

Each year, the states and territories select their top performers from the Air Guard’s more than 105,000 Airmen. The 114th Fighter Wing’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year will represent South Dakota when their award packages are forwarded to the National Guard Bureau for consideration as the overall 2018 Air National Guard Outstanding Airmen of the Year. 

From there, the Air Force Outstanding Airmen program annually recognizes 12 enlisted members for the same criteria as above. The 12 selectees are awarded the Outstanding Airmen of the Ye