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Story by Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Master Sgt. Joey Youdell, a pararescueman in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, created a “unit pride” ceiling tile with his daughters, Olivia (left) and Juliet. The hand-painted tile is one of several that have been installed in The Winner’s Circle recreation center at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The daughters of a Kentucky Air National Guardsman have put their artistic talents to use by helping showcase unit pride.

Master Sgt. Joey Youdell and his daughters, Olivia and Juliet, painted a ceiling tile depicting the heraldry of his unit, the Louisville-based 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

The tile was then installed in the ceiling of The Winner’s Circle, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center here. It joins ceiling tiles from other subordinate units assigned to the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing.

“Our leadership wanted to create something that would represent the spirit of the Special Tactics Squadron, and I thought it would be a great project to do with my daughters,” said Youdell, a pararescueman who has deployed overseas multiple times.

Youdell’s daughters painted a base coat on the tile, which soaked up a lot of pigment due to its porous nature and multiple perforations, while Youdell worked on the main art.

“The girls did a great job filling in all the holes with paint,” he said. “It took a long time, but we had a lot of fun doing it.”

Daughters help create cieling art to depict 123rd Special Tactics Squadron mission

Master Sgt. Joey Youdell, a pararescueman in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, installs a custom-painted ceiling tile in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 21, 2013. The facility features ceiling tiles depicting the missions of various units on base. Youdell painted the tile with the help of his daughters, Juliet and Olivia. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

The unit’s heraldry features a Pegasus surrounded by a life buoy and suspended by a ram-air parachute.

“The parachute is significant to the unit as a primary means of worldwide deployment, indicating that all special tactics squadron operators are airborne qualified,” according to the Pentagon’s Institute of Heraldry.

“The Pegasus symbolizes genius and inspiration and also represents the unit’s amalgamation of the ground and air elements, which is key to the mission.”

The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron is comprised of pararescuemen like Youdell, combat controllers and special operations weathermen.

Pararescuemen are parachute-jump qualified trauma specialists who must maintain emergency medical technician-paramedic credentials throughout their careers. With this medical and rescue expertise, PJs are able to perform life-saving missions in the world’s most remote areas. A PJ’s primary function is personnel recovery specialist, providing emergency medical capabilities in humanitarian and combat environments. PJs deploy in any available manner, including air-land-sea tactics, into restricted environments to authenticate, extract, treat, stabilize and evacuate injured personnel.

Combat controllers are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. As FAA-certified air traffic controllers, they deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.

Special operations weathermen are meteorologists with advanced tactical training to operate in hostile or denied territory. They gather and interpret weather data and provide intelligence from deployed locations while working primarily with Air Force and Army Special Operations Forces.

The unit’s slogan, “Ingenium Superat Vires,” means “Genius Overcomes Strength.”

Story by Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office

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A member of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron defends a vehicle during training at Zussman Range at Fort Knox, Ky., on Nov. 21, 2013. The Airman and his teammates were practicing insertions, extractions and close-quarters combat in a simulated Afghan village. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

FORT KNOX, Ky.  – A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter comes to a hovering stop above a two-story building in the middle of an Afghan village. With blades rotating above, a Kentucky Air National Guard pararescueman scoots to the edge of the chopper’s open door and grabs a thick rope before sliding 25 feet down to the building’s roof. He’s followed by five teammates who quickly secure the rooftop and scan the village for threats.

The scene may sound like a sequence from a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s just another day at the “office” for members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. They executed the mission in November as part of regular combat training at Fort Knox’s Zussman Urban Training Center.

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Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron climb a rope ladder onto a Kentucky Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk during training at Zussman Range at Fort Knox, Ky., on Nov. 21, 2013. The Airmen were practicing insertions, extractions and close-quarters combat in a simulated Afghan village. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

The center offers realistic combat environments that simulate what troops can expect to find Afghanistan, according to Staff Sgt. Jeff G., a Kentucky Air Guard pararescueman whose last name is being withheld because of the sensitive nature of his duties.

“This is as good as it gets for training,” he said.

Pararescuemen and their combat controller colleagues from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron are Special Forces Airmen. The former specialize in medical treatment and personnel recovery, while the latter control air traffic and air strikes. Both maintain a high level of training to be prepared for any mission.

The “fast rope insertion” described above is just one of many skills the men trained for in November. They also trained for fast extraction, in which a helicopter hovers overhead and drops a rope ladder for the operatives to climb up.

“We do this training to keep our skills up, stay proficient, so we can seamlessly integrate with other units,” Staff Sgt. G. said.

While at Zussman, the team also conducted close-quarters battle training. The operatives cordoned and searched buildings for people or high-value targets such as weapons caches, clearing the buildings one room at a time and eliminating threats as needed.

Throughout this process, they were met by actors who portrayed local Afghans, from a local market owner to hostile enemy forces that assaulted them with high-powered paintball guns. STS personnel used modified versions of their real-world weapons to fight back, employing non-lethal paint bullets, or “simunitions,” to return fire.

The Airmen also conducted full-mission-profile training tasks, using the equipment they would take with them overseas for a real-world operation. Among these tools were the Jaws of Life, a powered cutting device used to extract individuals from a downed aircraft or vehicle.

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A member of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron defends his position during training at Zussman Range at Fort Knox, Ky., on Nov. 21, 2013. The Airman and his teammates were practicing insertions, extractions and close-quarters combat in a simulated Afghan village. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

According to Master Sgt. Bryan Hunt, a combat controller for the 123rd STS, the unit does this type of training — which they call Military Operations on Urban Terrain — four times a year. It benefits both newcomers and unit veterans he said.

Each scenario was preceded by a dry run, or a practice walk-through. The Airmen would then execute a full-mission profile with night-vision goggles while taking simulated hostile fire.

“We try to apply everything we learned during a dry run, so when you’re actually being shot at, and you’re hot, your goggles are fogging up, the challenge was keeping your head, staying calm and applying the techniques you’ve learned previously,” Staff Sgt. G. said.

“The training was excellent and beneficial because it mimicked actual combat in Afghanistan. It represents that 360-degree battlefield that we experience in Afghanistan.”

Story by Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs 

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Senior Master Sergeant Billy Hardin, pararescue superintendent for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, practices providing medical care to a simulated military working dog while blindfolded to simulate darkness during a training session at Jefferson Community College in Shelbyville, Ky., on Dec. 5, 2013. Hardin is one of 10 Kentucky Air Guard pararescuemen who learned to treat military working dogs during the two-day course. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – Pararescuemen are the Air Force’s jump-qualified trauma specialists. They provide injured troops with emergency medical care in the most austere combat environments.

But what happens when the patient is a dog?

On a recent deployment to an overseas combat theater, one pararescuemen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron treated twice as many dogs as people.

“There has been a huge rise in the use of dogs on the battlefield, and unfortunately they are getting injured because they are sometimes the first to engage the enemy,” said Senior Master Sergeant Billy Hardin, pararescue superintendent for the 123rd.

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Staff Sgt. David Covel (left), a pararescueman from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, helps administer an intravenous solution to a dog with the help of Thomas Barrett, a civilian paramedic and K9 medic trainer, and Kalee Pasek, a doctor of veterinary medicine and education coordinator for K9 medics at Jefferson Community College in Shelbyville, Ky., Dec. 5, 2013, as part of a two-day training course. Covel is one of 10 Kentucky Air Guard pararescuemen who learned to treat military working dogs during the course. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

In an effort to enhance their combat veterinary skills, 10 of the unit’s pararescuemen recently completed a two-day training course at Jefferson Community College in Shelbyville, Ky., taught by K9 Medic, a private firm that specializes in medical education for the emergency care of dogs.

Prior to attending the course, the pararescuemen’s only veterinary training was gleaned through personal battlefield experience and by working informally with military dog handlers and civilian veterinarians.

According to Hardin, canines can be a bit more challenging to work with than people.

“The first thing you want to do is muzzle the animal, so you don’t get bit,” he said, explaining that dogs don’t understand you’re trying to help them.

Communications is another problem.

“People can tell you what hurts, but dogs don’t,” he said. “They just kind of look around. So you have pay close attention to them and their movements.”

Injuries on military working dogs, which perform missions like explosives detection, are typically confined to gunshot wounds or blast injuries. The dogs are very agile and good at climbing rocky terrain, almost never twisting an ankle or breaking a leg, Hardin said.

Currently, active duty Air Force Security Forces use dogs, but the Air National Guard does not.

Story by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Col. Robert Hamm (left), commander of the 123rd Operations Group, presents the guidon of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron to Maj. Sean McLane, the unit’s new commander, during a change-of-command ceremony held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 24, 2013. The passing of the guidon is a time-honored tradition signifying change of leadership. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Maj. Sean McLane assumed command of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron during a change-of-command ceremony here Nov. 24.

He replaces Lt. Col. Jeffrey Wilkinson, who now serves as deputy air commander of the squadron’s parent organization, the 123rd Airlift Wing.

McLane began his Air Force career in 1993 as an enlisted tactical air controller before being commissioned as a distinguished graduate of the Air National Guard Academy of Military Science in 2002. He most recently served as director of operations for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and brings many years of experience to his new role.

“Having been the lowest enlisted member of the squadron, you get to see how all of the leadership’s decisions affect you,” McLane said during the ceremony. “I don’t want to be disconnected from that Airman. When that extra workload or difficulty comes to him, I want to know how he is affected.

“If I can’t change the outcome of how it affects him, I can explain to him why it has to be that way,” he continued. “What I really want is for people to understand why they are doing what they are doing and how it affects the mission.”

McLane first came to the Kentucky Air National Guard in 1996 when the special tactics unit was a flight of about 24 members. He earned his combat control beret in 1997, maintaining full combat mission-ready status as a traditional Guardsman while attending college and, eventually, teaching high school math, science and history. His military career includes assignments as a special tactics squadron flight commander and weapons and tactics officer.

“I have known Major McLane since he was an NCO, and I had a lot of respect for him then,” said Chief Master Sgt. Tom DeSchane, the squadron’s combat control enlisted manager. “He has vision and he likes to have as much input as he can before he makes decisions. I think that’s what is going to make him a successful commander for the STS.”

Now staffed with more than 80 personnel, the squadron provides a rapidly deployable force to establish positive control of the air-ground interface, battlefield trauma care, terminal attack control, personnel recovery and air/ground meteorological effects forecasting in support of overseas contingency operations and domestic disasters.

“I want people to be proud of the job that they are doing, proud of their squadron and proud to be a member of it,” McLane emphasized. “If they have the proud ownership of their position, they are going to do their job better.”

Mission readiness is another top priority. McLane has deployed numerous times in support of military contingency and combat operations, including Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; multiple Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed exercises; and civil natural-disaster response operations and state exercises.

“I’m not interested in fighting the last war,” he told the audience. “I’m interested in fighting the next one. I’m not interested in preparing for the last natural disaster we have faced. I am very concerned with being ready to respond to all of them.”

“When you look at the mission of special tactics, our federal and state mission, where they overlap is what we are going to train to and what we are going to be good at. If we do that, we will be ready for the future war and be ready for what the state needs us to do.”

Story by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office

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Five combat controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron scaled Mount McKinley near Talkeetna, Alaska, on May 25, 2013, as part of arctic mountaineer training. The 20,237-foot summit is the highest mountain peak in North America. (Photo courtesy 123rd Special Tactics Squadron)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Five combat controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard gained valuable extreme-weather experience recently by scaling to the top of Mount McKinley near Talkeetna, Alaska.

Senior Master Sgt. Wes Brooks, Master Sgts. Russ LeMay and Aaron May, and Tech. Sgts. Grant Kinlaw and Harley Bobay of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron reached the summit of North America’s highest mountain May 25 after many weeks of mid-altitude and high-altitude conditioning.

The objective of such extreme training, which involved glacier travel techniques, crevasse rescue operations and avalanche prediction, was to give the Airmen experience they might need during cold-weather, high-altitude military operations, according to Chief Master Sgt. Tom DeSchane, the 123rd’s combat control enlisted manager.

“In preparing for part of their war-time tasking, these guys have to practice their mountaineering skills and land navigation through arctic conditions,” DeSchane said. “Each operator is issued his own skis, snow shoes and all the accoutrements for surviving the elements. Going up Mount McKinley teaches them how to rope-in and traverse the terrain safely with all of the equipment that they have to carry.”

Combat controllers are part of the Air Force Special Operations community and are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. As certified air traffic controllers, they deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.

Planning for the high-altitude training exercise began about a year ago when the five men participated in mountaineering training in the snowy mountains outside Salt Lake City, Utah, with other members of their squadron.

There, the squadron practiced knots, anchors and other rope skills, as well as movement techniques, minimalistic equipment and clothing, and medium-altitude terrain traversing.

“Originally, the idea to climb (McKinley) came from Aaron, who had tried to climb the mountain before with his previous unit,” LeMay said. “His team was unable to reach the summit when they stopped to help rescue another group of climbers who had an accident.”

Accidents on the mountain are common and mostly caused by climbers who are not properly trained or prepared for the change in altitude and the extreme environment.

The Kentucky team took great care in preparing for their climb.

When the five-member team arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, outside Denali National Park and Preserve, they spent the first day with a guide service, familiarizing themselves with their equipment and preparing meals. The team then departed by air taxi to Mount McKinley base camp, where they spent three days engaged in hands-on training to ensure a solid skill foundation.

For the next 13 days the five Airmen and two guides applied all of their skills and techniques to climb the mountain summit, stopping at camps along the way to acclimate, rest and complete training objectives, before making the return trip to base camp.

“Summit day was the hardest part of the climb,” LeMay said. “It took us five to six hours of straight climbing from the last camp we stayed at to reach it. We were the first group of the day to reach the summit so we had about 45 minutes to ourselves to see how beautiful it was. It was the clearest day at the top, so we could see for miles around us. It was amazing.”

Having to make way for other climbing groups, the combat controllers returned to the camp they stayed in the night before to rest for their descent.

“It was tough to go up to the top,” LeMay continued. “Everything about going up and coming down was tough. The cold-weather environment is very unforgiving, and it makes even the smallest tasks very difficult.

“It was the best kind of cold-weather training we could have gotten. Working in such a harsh environment gave us invaluable experience. The climb was amazing, but a lot of hard work.”

Story by Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Master Sgt. Russ LeMay, a combat controller from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, practices rugby with the Louisville Men’s Rugby Club in Louisville, Ky., on March 18, 2013. LeMay has played for both the U.S. Air Force and Combined Services rugby teams, and hopes to repeat again this year. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Joshua Horton)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two yellow goal posts stand quietly in their own zones, one at each end of a glorious field of green marked with bright white lines at 10-meter intervals, waiting for a rugger to ground the ball in the in-goal area for the first five points of the season.

Master Sgt. Russ LeMay, a combat controller from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, has been that player for both the U.S. Air Force and the Combined Services rugby teams in past seasons, and he hopes to be again in the upcoming seasons later this year.

A relatively new player to the sport, LeMay says rugby is his passion and that he was hooked from the start.

“I played football all through high school and never really thought of rugby,” the Kentucky Air Guardsman said. “I had a friend invite me out to play with him for the Louisville Men’s Rugby Club in 2009 and I couldn’t get enough. I loved the speed of the game, the strategy and the team work of all 15 players on the field. It is an amazing sport that keeps you going.”

That camaraderie, competition and love of the game is what compelled LeMay to try out for both of the national teams.

“These are high-level clubs,” LeMay said. “Some of these guys are playing for the best teams in the nation. It’s quite a step up from what normal club rugby is around the United States.”

During his off time from the two teams and in between his duties with the Air Guard, LeMay plays with his Louisville squad and has encouraged other Air Guard members to join him.

“So far, we have five guys from the unit who are playing,” he said. “We meet twice a week for practice, games on Saturday, and we always have a great time.”

Indeed, rugby is a growing sport across the United States. In 2012, the number of active registered players has grown to more than 115,000, according to USA Rugby, the sport’s governing body. The National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in 2010 ranked rugby as the fastest-growing sport in the nation.

Rugby will also make an appearance at 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio after being absent from the games since 1924.

“Not only is the sport growing here, it has begun to grow more in Kentucky and across parts of the United States,” LeMay said. “ It’s awesome to see.”

By Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Senior Airman Vincenzo Lafronza has been named the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2013 Airman of the Year in the Airman category. Lafronza is a C-130 crew chief for the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, KY — Strong leadership, a commitment to self-improvement and a passion for community service are just a few of the reasons why Senior Airman Vincenzo Lafronza, Tech Sgt. Harley Bobay and Master Sgt. Sharon Foster have been named the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2013 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

“I am extremely proud to announce the selections for this year’s Airmen of the Year,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Smith, state command chief for Joint Forces Headquarters—Kentucky. “As with every year, the competition was keen, and the winners of each category were selected by the slimmest of margins. Each nominee is amazing, both in their respective duties here at the Guard and within their communities.”

Lafronza, the winner of the Airman category, is a C-130 crew chief for the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He was selected, in part, because of his exemplary knowledge of the Hercules aircraft, according to Senior Master Sgt. Tim Nash, Lafronza’s supervisor and a flight chief in the 123rd AMS.

“When I first met him, he was coming to us from a different unit working on different aircraft,” Nash said. “I thought he might have difficulty learning a different aircraft, but he didn’t. He hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped to look back.”

A Quality Assurance Honor Roll recipient for logging zero defects on 100 percent of assessment inspections, Lafronza had no idea he had even been nominated for the award.

“I thought I was just coming in every day and doing my job,” he said. “I just wanted to do the best I could, and someone took notice. I was very surprised and excited to be chosen.”

Lafronza is currently a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a volunteer for the New York Cares organization, which provides assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

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Tech Sgt. Harley Bobay has been named the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2013 Airman of the Year in the non-commissioned officer category. Bobay is a combat controller for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

“I was checking on him during his leave after he returned home from a recent deployment,” Nash said, “and there he was, at a clothing distribution center, handing out clothes to people affected by the hurricane. He has a big heart, always ready to learn something new and the first to volunteer to help.”

Bobay, the winner in the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a combat controller for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and a recipient of both the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Deployed for 175 days in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Bobay sacrificed personal safety to save the lives of coalition forces while under constant enemy small-arms and mortar fire, according to Chief Master Sgt. Tom DeSchane, chief enlisted manager for the 123rd STS. Bobay helped neutralize every insurgent attack in his area and protect a local village from Taliban insurgency.

Aside from his tactical duties, Bobay is a mentor to younger, less-experienced members of the squadron.

“He is constantly passing down his knowledge to the younger guys,” DeSchane said. “He is always on the go, always training, always moving forward and looking for the next challenge. He is a hard worker who encourages those around him to work harder.”

Along with his mission responsibilities, Bobay balances family life with community volunteering. He is a wrestling coach for a local elementary and middle school and a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“I was very surprised when I was chosen for the award,” Bobay said. “There are so many other people that I work with every day that do the same job as me, and do it better. It is very humbling to be chosen from among such a hardworking and dedicated group like these guys.”

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Master Sgt. Sharon Foster has been named the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2013 Airman of the Year in the senior non-commissioned officer category. Foster is the non-commissioned officer in charge of force management for the 123rd Force Support Squadron. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Foster, who was selected as senior NCO of the year, is the non-commissioned officer in charge of force management for the 123rd Force Support Squadron, a customer-based organization.

“I have always had the utmost trust and confidence in Sergeant Foster’s ability to assist our customers,” said Chief Master Sgt. Lori Zinsmeister, chief enlisted manager for the 123rd FSS. “She takes the time to counsel each of them to give them the best information that she can.”

Some of Foster’s responsibilities include ensuring retirement, promotion and re-enlistment packets are put together correctly and accurately.

“I know that when I give her an assignment, or if one of our patrons asks for her assistance, the job will get done,” Zinsmeister said. “She is always doing work at a chief’s level: accurately and timely. I can trust her to get the job done.”

For Foster, who also won Airmen of the Year at the NCO level in 2005, the newest honor is confirmation of a continuing job well done.

“I was very surprised to have been nominated in the senior category,” she said. “It was a great feeling to be recognized the first time, but to have been nominated and selected a second time at a higher level is even better. It lets me know that the job I am doing does make a difference.”

The 2013 Outstanding Airmen of the Year will be honored, along with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s Outstanding Soldiers of the Year, during a banquet to be held March 16 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Tickets are for $25 per person and may be purchased from any chief master sergeant or sergeant major.

123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Kentucky Air National Guard Maj. Sean McLane, director of operations for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, shows General Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, some special operations equipment used at austere landing zones during a visit to the Air Guard base on Feb. 5, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The new commander of Air Mobility Command visited the Kentucky Air National Guard here Feb. 5 to learn more about the mission of the 123rd Airlift Wing.

Click here for more photos from this story.

Gen. Paul J. Selva, who assumed command of AMC Nov. 30, attended a mission briefing and visited with Airmen from multiple Kentucky units, including the 165th Airlift Squadron, the 123rd Contingency Response Group, the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron and the 123rd Force Support Squadron.

Accompanied by Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff, Air National Guard assistant to the commander of AMC, and Chief Master Sgt. Andy Kaiser, AMC command chief master sergeant, Selva also viewed demonstrations of the wing’s new Mobile Emergency Operations Center, a new Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Trailer and a C-130 Hercules aircraft configured for disaster-response operations.

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Kentucky Air National Guard Maj. Sean McLane, director of operations for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, shows a variety of special operations equipment to General Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, and Chief Master Sgt. Richard A. Kaiser, the command chief master sergeant of Air Mobility Command, during a tour of the 123rd Airlift Wing in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 5, 2012. The gear is used to establish operations at austere landing zones. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

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Kentucky Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Carol Davis, emergency manager for the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron, shows the Mobile Emergency Operations Center to General Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command, during a visit to the Air Guard base on Feb. 5, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. (Kentucky Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)

Story by Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Lt. Col. Jeff Wilkinson, commander of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, presents Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Malone with a Meritorious Service Medal during Malone’s retirement ceremony Oct. 20, 2012, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky. Malone served in the active-duty Air Force and Air National Guard for 30 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maxwell Rechel)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With 30 years of exemplary service in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, Chief Master Sgt. Patrick M. Malone was honorably retired from the Armed Forces Oct. 20 during a ceremony held in his honor at the 123rd Airlift Wing.

Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family and co-workers of all ranks, the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron pararescueman was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal and the Distinguished Kentucky Service Medal by squadron commander Lt. Col. Jeff Wilkinson.

“Chief Malone’s accomplishments are too many to name,” Wilkinson said. “He is a one-in-a-million individual. His degree of personality, talent, leadership and caring is so exceptional, that we are blessed to work with him. Men like him come around only once in a lifetime.”

Malone began his career in the Air Force on Oct. 19, 1982. After completing basic training, he went on to become a special operations pararescueman, a jump-qualified trauma-care specialist whose primary mission is to deploy into restricted environments and extract injured personnel. His first duty assignment was with the 6594th Test Group at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where he conducted numerous open-ocean rescue missions.

After serving an active-duty tour in Alaska as a member of the 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Malone joined the Alaska Air Guard. There, he assisted in several search-and-recovery missions and was credited with saving 85 lives.

In 2000, Malone enlisted in the Kentucky Air National Guard as its first pararescue senior enlisted advisor, playing a key role in the transformation of the existing 123rd Combat Control Flight into a special tactics squadron. He also personally led the Air National Guard special operations task force responsible for the evacuation of thousands of citizens in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

“Chief Malone is a visionary,” Wilkinson told the audience. “He mentored, cultivated and trained future members of the new squadron. More than that, Chief Malone has built an everlasting bond of brotherhood within our unit.”

As part of the retirement ceremony, the special tactics squadron presented Malone and his family with a commemorative American flag.

“What can I say about my squadron — wow!” Malone remarked. “It has been my pleasure, my privilege and honor to work with you, and I salute you all.”

A combat veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom, Malone’s many decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Airman’s Medal, the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Malone thanked many of his co-workers and family members for their support during his career, but he reserved special recognition for his wife, Kim.

“You’re everything,” he said. “You have been here with me always. You are my mentor, my guide, and the love of my life. Thank you.”

Story by Master Sgt. Philip Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Airman 1st Class Corey Ciarlante of the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, performs pushups during the 123rd Airlift Wing Fitness Challenge at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 21, 2012. The challenge tested the ability of teams from across the base to complete a timed circuit that also included a 1.5-mile relay race and 40 sit-ups. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maxwell Rechel)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron held on to its title of most physically fit team in the Kentucky Air National Guard after competing against 14 other squads during the fourth-annual 123rd Airlift Wing Fitness Challenge here Oct. 21.

Sixty Airmen competed in the challenge, which tested four-person teams on their ability to complete a circuit of 80 pushups, 40 sit-ups and a 1.5-mile relay race. Teams could be all male or co-ed.

The special tactics squad set a new record this year, completing the challenge in 8 minutes and 54 seconds — 6 seconds faster than the record they set last year.

Tech. Sgt. Shaun Cowherd, base fitness program manager for the 123rd Force Support Squadron, said the challenge helps build esprit de corps across the wing while promoting fitness.

“Year after year, we’re seeing the times get faster and faster,” he said. “It shows that people are paying attention to fitness and being fit to fight.”

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Kentucky Air National Guardsmen begin the relay-race portion of the 123rd Airlift Wing Fitness Challenge at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 21, 2012. The challenge tested the ability of teams from across the base to complete a timed circuit that also included 80 pushups and 40 sit-ups. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Maxwell Rechel)

The STS team was comprised of Capt. Nathan Tingle, Tech. Sgt. Harley Bobay, Staff Sgt. Oliver Smith and Senior Airman Matt Ray, each of whom received a wing commander’s coin.

The 123rd Security Forces Squadron team came in a close second at 9:01, followed by a team from the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron at 9:22. The top-scoring co-ed team hailed from the 165th Airlift Squadron.

“Being my first year involved with the Fitness Challenge, I was excited to see the participation from each unit, both from the competitors and the spectators,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Fairbanks of the 123rd Force Support Squadron. “I think events like the Fitness Challenge increase camaraderie within individual units and have a morale-boosting affect base-wide, strengthening the 123rd as a whole.”