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Air Commandos celebrate past, present and future

  • Published
  • By Dawn Hart
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

Air Commandos – Past, Present and Future – were celebrated April 10-13, 2024, when the Air Force Special Operations Command Outstanding Airmen of the Year gathered here for two days of professional development, recognition, and celebration.

This year’s events were held in conjunction with the Air Commando Association’s annual convention and included the presentation of AFSOC annual awards during the heritage seminar breakfast held April 12, 2024, and the annual OAY banquet held in concert with the ACA Hall of Fame induction at the Destin-Ft Walton Beach Convention Center, April 13, 2024.

Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC commander, took time to thank earlier Air Commandos for carrying the torch and laying the groundwork for our proud heritage.

“AFSOC is in a great place because of the teammates you saw here and the 21,000 others beside them getting after the missions every single day,” he said. But he also reminded everyone, “We aren’t beholden to our heritage, we have to go so much further because the adversaries are increasing their game, and this team has to go forward.”

The OAY were nominated by their leadership and selected by board members based on their exceptional job performance, superior leadership and followership, and the epitome of the whole Airman concept. The airman, noncommissioned officer and senior NCO will now compete at the Air Force level-OAY competition. The first sergeant, base honor guard and honor guard manager awardees will also move on to compete for Air Force-level awards.

CMSgt. Anthony Green, AFSOC command chief, thanked all involved in supporting the award winners, especially their families.

“For the families of those who are serving our country so proudly and who did so well this year; the reason we wear this uniform is because we have to live up to their expectations,” he said.

Gen. Bauernfeind closed out the OAY banquet with a special thank you to the ACA for keeping the stories of our Air Commandos alive through their Hall of Fame inductions and for creating a new foundation that will focus on building a museum to inspire the next generation of Air Commandos.

“Chief Green and I are proud of what our Air Commandos have done in the past, what they did today and I know we’ll be proud of what they’ll do in the future,” he said.

The AFSOC annual award winners are:

Commander’s Leadership Award Officer of the Year: Capt. Janelle Florencia K.G. Agnolutto, 352nd Special Operations Wing

Commander’s Leadership Award Enlisted Member of the Year: TSgt Trenton D. Gareis, AFSOC Geographically Separated Unit

SrA Julian S. Scholten ISR Operator of the Year: TSgt Ryan Carson, 352nd SOW

Heart of the Team Award: TSgt Shayne R. Cole, 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron

Outstanding Combat Tactics Officer of the Year: Capt. Pierce T. Kassmeier, 24th Special Tactics Squadron

Outstanding Combat Tactics Enlisted Member of the Year: MSgt Jeffrey A. Mason, Special Tactics Training Squadron

Outstanding Special Operations Squadron of the Year: 15th Special Operations Squadron

Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element (DAGRE) Enlisted Member of the Year: SSgt Chase R. Elliott, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron

Hap Lutz Medic of the Year: SrA William C. Flaspoehler, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron

The 2023 AFSOC Outstanding Airmen of the Year are:

Senior Airman Jacob Cummings, 7th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, U.K.
Senior Airman Cummings serves as a CV-22 electrical and environmental systems technician and assistant dedicated crew chief. He filled a five-week shift lead supervisor gap where he guided the repair for 16 pilot reported discrepancies and drove the training program to qualify four Airmen on 138 core tasks. He facilitated 103 sorties for Naval Special Warfare training and supported presidential movement in Europe. Additionally, he supported CV-22 interoperability during the first Artic bilateral with Finland and executed 192 maintenance actions that ensured the safe evacuations of 100 U.S. citizens from an active conflict area.

Non-commissioned Officer and Base Honor Guard Member Program Manager
Technical Sgt Eric Sanchez, 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon AFB, N.M.
Technical Sgt Sanchez planned a full mission profile exercise, published an inspection guide with 40 line items and eight injects to validate the Communications Directorate staff’s capabilities in the Special Operations Task Group. His efforts solidified AFSOC’s capacity to meet U.S. Special Operations Command’s operational needs in contested environments. He restored a $2.2M condemned facility by overseeing the execution of 32 work orders and integration of four murals, fortifying Cannon’s infrastructure and culminating in the unit’s selection for the 2022 General Curtis E. LeMay Award.

Senior Non-commissioned Officer
Senior Master Sergeant Jonathan Prodan, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command Directorate of Operations, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Senior Master Sgt. Prodan filled the Career Enlisted Manager position for five months, managed 1,300 aviators and executed enlisted force leveling. He synchronized the Operations Directorate and the Inspector General to cultivate AFSOC’s future readiness culture aligned with strategic doctrine, enabling unconventional adversarial dilemmas across the spectrum of conflict. He led the commands standards and discipline through coordination with U.S. Army Special Operations Command and industry partners, fielding a new aviation uniform to present 3,000 professional aviators to the joint force, saving the Air Force $1.8M annually.

First Sergeant
Master Sergeant Sarai Phillips, 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon AFB, N.M.
Master Sgt. Phillips served as the first sergeant for the 43d Intelligence Squadron and 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron advancing 18,000 joint members within 15 austere locations, fueling 45,000 combat sorties and maximizing the command’s largest movement.  She drove three triad teams, 628 airmen and two overseas detachments on intra-agency measures, in return enabling the advancement of $22,000 in surveillance assets in support of seven combatant commands. Additionally, elected as First Sergeant Council president, she actualized the Department of Defense’s first off-base housing lease, procuring 120 rooms and saving the wing $347m.

Base Honor Guard Member
SrA Frank Payne, 27th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.
Throughout Senior Airman Payne’s 12-month commitment as a ceremonial guardsman and flight leader, he mentored 32 members, providing them with more than 120 hours of training and evaluations. He traveled 3,400 miles to complete 263 detail hours which encompassed 19 colors presentations and the rendering of 18 congressionally mandated funeral honors. He collaborated with mortuary affairs and chaplain teams to organize memorials for five deceased active-duty Airmen, offering closure for the bereaved families and their Air Commando teammates. His meticulous efforts led to the flight’s 299 flawless ceremonies spanning across 34 counties and two states.

Company Grade Officer
Captain Pamela Taylor, 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, U.K.
Captain Taylor served as the maintenance mission commander during a presidential-directed task force deployment, leading 65 Airmen in launching CV-22’s and MC-130’s just 14 hours after arrival to support the safe evacuation of 100 Americans from an active conflict zone. As Director of Operations, she led 232 Airmen in supporting 12 operations across 10 European countries to solidify joint interoperability and bolstering NATO alliances. Additionally, Taylor was the first American service member to march along-side the renowned World War II Chindit veterans in the London Remembrance Day parade, strengthening our international relations and our Air Commando heritage.

Individual Reservist Officer
Lt Col Teresa Beets, 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, U.K.
As the Individual Mobilization Assistant to the Director of Wing Intelligence, Lt. Col. Beets, directed 38 personnel, filling an essential active-duty position for eight months. She guided the team through the wing’s A-staff reorganization, establishing the wing’s A2 (Intelligence) Directorate and relocating Airmen and equipment to support two operational units. Her actions postured the wing to combat pacing global adversaries. She led 20 intel members to support 3 presidential-directed missions; coordinated data fusion across seven organizations to create threat mitigation strategies, driving leadership decision making to enable the mobilization of 202 members.

Civilian Category One
Amber Workheiser, 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon AFB, N.M.
Ms. Workheiser served as the customer service representative and deputy disbursing officer for the wing. She was hand-selected as the MAJCOM’s customer service representative for USSOCOM’s civilian pay internal control audit, training the enterprise on internal controls and procedures for civilian pay and personnel systems, resulting in USSOCOM benchmarking her processes as the “gold standard” across the Combatant Command. Additionally, she led the wing’s disbursing operations, training 31 paying agents and issuing $317,000, ensuring world-wide Special Operations Forces access and placement in austere locations.

Civilian Category Two
Anthony Correia, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Mr. Correia served as the branch chief, Investigations and Security Forces Ground Intelligence.  He oversaw five Airmen who served in AFSOC’s busiest investigations branch running 90 criminal cases and recovered $150,000 and attained a 98% solve rate.  He was sought out, as one of six, by HQ Security Forces, to help develop a new criminal investigations course.  Additionally, he was selected as the MAJCOM representative for a manpower study that directly led to an approved enterprise increase for all investigations offices.  He drove to fix criminal intel gaps between eight panhandle bases. 

Civilian Category Three
Anthony Powers, 27th Special Operations Wing, Cannon AFB, N.M.
Mr. Powers serves as an Individual Protective Equipment Materiel Handler. As the section’s subject matter expert, he oversaw the issue of protective equipment and weapons in support of numerous exercises and deployments, including a rapid alert mission, which supported the evacuation of 100 personnel. Furthermore, Mr. Powers backed the first AFSOC Commando course hosted at Cannon AFB, which enabled three training sessions and led to the certification of 75 students saving the Air Force over $300,000 in travel costs. He was also essential in a total force integration effort, placing 1,000 weapons into extended storage, which resulted in him winning the wing's Top 3 Hard Charger Award.

Civilian Category Four
Christopher Hood, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Mr. Hood serves as the Environmental Element Chief in support of developing and current missions executed from Hurlburt Field. His team is responsible for environmental compliance activities from air and water quality to the management, storage and disposal of solid and hazardous waste. He is driven by innovation and optimization principles to identify cost savings associated with generator fuel operations, water conservation, wastewater treatment and energy management. He is supporting the local community through partnership activities for wastewater treatment and transportation by working with county government officials in scoping projects. Hood has been an AFWERX evaluator of small business innovation research proposals supporting the development of innovative technologies.

Air & Space Force Key Spouse
Mary Aguon, 353rd Special Operations Wing, Kadena AB, Japan
Ms. Aguon refined the Key Spouse Program by dedicating 319 hours to spike quality of life, enabling Airmen to focus on the mission. She helped improve the fleet health, meeting all metrics for the first time in six years, and winning AFSOC’s 23 Maintenance Effectiveness Award. She established a coffee meet and greet event for spouses and is the loan locker point of contact where she tracked 558 items and home necessities. She was vital to the unit’s annual beach BBQ where she helped cook for 306 guests. She spearheaded the children’s Easter Egg hunt by coordinating logistics with 4 base agencies and established activity stations enjoyed by 93 children.

The 2023 ACA Hall of Fame inductees included:
Lt Col Daniel Schilling
CMSgt Joseph S. Stanaland
CMSgt William W. Turner
MSgt Paul L. Fremstad
TSgt Sean M. Corlew (posthumous)

Full Hall of Fame citations can be found on the Air Commando Association website at