162nd Wing awards ceremony; Honoring the Airmen who soar

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April in Tucson brings an abundance of beauty and renewed life to the desert with warm temperatures, bright-colored blossoms, and positive growth. Spring is a time to cherish the beauty of the landscape and give thanks for our blessings as life blooms before our eyes. It is also a time when the 162nd Wing honors its blessings and reflects on its growth of the past year during the annual awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony has become an event of remembrance, celebration, introductions and honors. It gives thanks to the military and community members who have helped it blossom into the successful unit it has become today and commemorates those who were lost supporting the mission. This year, the ceremony was held Sunday, April 12, and included the presentation of the Arizona Distinguished Service Medal, the welcoming of the honorary unit commanders, the introduction of the Community College of the Air Force Graduates, and the honoring of the annual awardees.

More than 100 individuals were lauded during the ceremony for their distinguished contributions to the wing and its mission. Master Sgt. Narissa Fijal, an intelligence analyst in the wing’s operations group, received two prestigious awards and was presented with her CCAF diploma during the ceremony. She was selected as the Air Education and Training Command’s Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, and as the 162nd Air Guardians Outstanding Guardsman of the Year.

Fijal has served the Air Force, both on active duty and in the Air National Guard, for more than 10 years providing intelligence qualification training and academic surveillance expertise to pilots around the world. She recently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where she gained recognition for her many outstanding efforts including expert threat analysis, which assisted coalition forces engage enemies during combat missions.

When she is not dedicating herself to Air Force and Air National Guard missions, Fijal is active in the local community as an architectural design consultant, hoping to one day start her own architecture firm. Her contributions to the wing and the community are boundless, thus her selection by the wing and the Air Guardians board of directors for her leadership, community involvement, and selfless service.

“It’s an honor to receive these awards,” said Fijal. “I feel privileged and humbled because I just feel that I’m doing my job not realizing the effect I have on the mission as a whole.”

The AETC award is especially prominent, said Fijal, because she competed against military members across reserve component bases. This AETC award is the second she has received, winning first in 2007 as an airman. Both of Fijal’s awards were achieved while she was working as a Drill Status Guardsman.

Drill Status Guardsmen are the men and women of the Air National Guard who serve both their community and their country, maintaining civilian employment throughout the month while serving their state and country one weekend each month. It is not easy to maintain separate careers and find a balance between military and civilian obligations; it takes commitment, dedication, and sometimes great patience.

To show their appreciation for the outstanding Airmen, who make a difference in both hemispheres of their lives, wing members honor these Airmen with the Drill Status Guardsmen of the Year awards. One of the six Airmen to receive an award for 2014 is Capt. Nathan Mestler, a chaplain at the 162nd.

Mestler has served as a DSG for more than four years while simultaneously working as the dean of students for a state Baptist college. As the grandson of a WWII pilot, his passion for military history, heritage and patriotism have guided his life since childhood. After being called to ministry, Mestler said he soon found, “the perfect marriage” of careers, combining ministry and military as an Air Force chaplain.

Although Mestler is a DSG, his commitment to service and his fellow service members is tireless. Whether praying with wing members over the phone in the middle of the night, comforting Airmen in the hospital during crisis situations or planning and organizing wing events throughout the month, Mestler goes above and beyond driven by his desire to help others.

“I look forward to drill because I leave feeling like I made a different in someone’s life,” he said.

This year’s award ceremony also honored the numerous individuals who not only achieved major accomplishments within the wing, but who were recognized nationally for their outstanding contributions Guard-wide.

Senior Airman Annysa Padilla-Acedo, an aviation resource manager for the wing, received the Air National Guard Aviation Management Outstanding Airman of the Year award. Padilla-Acedo’s contributions to her job and career field are beyond reproach managing the aviation resource needs of the 195th Fighter Squadron. Normally a position held by a technical sergeant or above, Padilla-Acedo outshines many as she brilliantly handles all the aviation resources of the largest fighter squadron in the Air National Guard.

Padilla-Acedo, Mestler, and Fijal are just a few of the numerous wing members who were honored April 12. The accomplishments of the men and women of the 162nd Wing are greatly appreciated and celebrated, during the annual awards ceremony and throughout the year. A hearty congratulations to all of the awardees and CCAF graduates, whether you were able to cross the stage or not, and a big thank you to all unit members for your contributions to the wing and your devoted service.