PA Air, Army National Guard Recognize Airmen, Soldiers of the Year

Jun 02, 2010, 10:01 ET from Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Six Guard Members Selected From Among 17,000 Enlisted Members

HARRISBURG, Pa., June 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania National Guard scoured its ranks of 17,000 enlisted members and today announced the six members who have been recognized for outstanding leadership in 2009.

Each year, the enlisted men and women of the Pennsylvania Air and Army National Guard are candidates for Airman or Soldier of the Year or, for higher ranks, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. The selection process involves a series of stringent evaluation boards at Guard units across the state, with candidates interviewed and ranked on the basis of their technical proficiency, leadership skills, military knowledge and bearing.

In the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, leadership reviewed 3,600 enlisted members in its ranks and chose the top Airman, Noncommissioned Officer and Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

Airman Monica Erlick, 25, Pittsburgh, was selected as the Airman of the Year. She serves with the 171st Air Refueling Wing, 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron in Johnstown. She was deployed to Iraq last year and expects to serve overseas again in her job as an air traffic control radar operator.

"I joined the Guard because I wanted a civilian career in air traffic control," said Erlick. "It's great. I enjoy the job and the Air National Guard."

Erlick graduated from Upper Saint Clair High School in 2003 and Indiana University of Pennsylvania in December 2006.

Tech. Sgt. Thomas Cloonan, 31, Pittsburgh, was selected as the Pennsylvania Air National Guard Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. He serves with the 171st Air refueling Wing, 171st Medical Group in Coraopolis.

"Tech. Sgt. Cloonan has set the standard in his position with the 171st and excels at everything he does," said Chief Master Sgt. Victor H. Guerra. "We are proud to have him as a member of our unit and I am not surprised that he would stand out among those across the state."

Senior Master Sgt. Scott Ball, 34, Campbelltown, operations superintendent and joint terminal attack controller for the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Indiantown Gap, was selected as the Pennsylvania Air National Guard Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

"Senior Master Sgt. Ball is one of the finest NCOs I've ever met," said Lt. Col. Terrence Koudelka, 148th Air Support Operations Squadron commander. "His leadership and real-world close air support expertise was instrumental in this past year's successes of both the 148th and the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team."

Ball, a 2005 graduate of the Community College of the Air Force, served 10 years active duty before becoming a Guard member six years ago.

"I'm honored to have received this award and actually most of the award should be accredited to the Airmen who work for me because they're the ones who make my job easy," said Ball.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Sischo, deputy adjutant general - Air, Pennsylvania National Guard, explained the importance of these awards. "These Airmen are the backbone of our organization and represent the best in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard," he said. "We are fortunate to have these great people serve our state and our nation."

Senior leaders of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard searched through the 13,400 enlisted soldiers in its ranks and selected the Soldier of the Year, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and the winner of the Lt. Gen.  Milton G. Baker Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Award.

Although it was an exhaustive statewide search, all three Army National Guard awardees are members of the 55th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, in Scranton.

Spc. Jonathan D. Hontz, 23, White Haven, a member of Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 109th Field Artillery in Scranton was selected as the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

"He's an outstanding soldier," said Sgt. Raymond Naperkowski, Hontz's team leader. "He is always willing to step up and do the job."

Hontz, a student at Luzerne County Community College, and graduate of Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre, decided to join the National Guard three years ago and said he chose to be a combat medic because he was interested in the medical profession, but he had other motivations, as well.

"My great-grandfather, grandfather and uncle all served in the military," said Hontz. "I guess I joined because I wanted to be like them."

Staff Sgt. Joseph S. Parsons, 30, Wapwallopen, was selected as the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

Parsons is a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry in Honesdale and is a graduate of Crestwood High School in Mountain Top and a student at Kings College, Wilkes-Barre.

He joined the National Guard after serving nearly six years with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.

"It can be more challenging because you're not doing it every day and you have to get your training done in a compressed time," said Parsons. "But the guys are motivated and put a good effort into what we do. We work well together."

Sgt. Adam R. Wendoloski, 31, Wilkes-Barre, was named recipient of the Lt. Gen. Milton G. Baker Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Award, which is based on a series of evaluation boards similar to those for the Soldier of the Year honor. This coveted state award is named in honor of the founder of the Valley Forge Military Academy, who enlisted in the Army during World War I and served with distinction in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard from 1921 to 1946.

Wendoloski is a member of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 103rd Armor, Sunbury.

"Hontz, Parsons and Wendoloski represent the best of the best," said Brig. Gen. Jerry Beck Jr., deputy adjutant general - Army, Pennsylvania National Guard. "To stand out as one of the best -- in one of the largest enlisted forces in the National Guard -- is a great accomplishment."

Media contact: Maj. Cory Angell, 717-861-8829

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs