Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, Director of the Air National Guard, recently announced Headquarters, Illinois Air National Guard (ILANG) is among six Air National Guard units that will receive the 2020 Air Force Organizational Excellence Award (AFOEA).
“Our Airmen in the Illinois Air National Guard execute the mission, day in and day out, with precision and excellence,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “We’re extremely proud to receive this award, which is a reflection of the selfless service of the men and women of the Illinois Air National Guard.”
Approximately 40 Airmen assigned to Headquarters, ILANG, will receive the award. This is the third time Headquarters, ILANG received the AFOEA. Headquarters, ILANG previously received the award in 1999 and 1986.
“The men and women of the Illinois Air National Guard serve something greater than themselves,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Nezamis, Assistant Adjutant General-Air and Commander of the Illinois Air National Guard. “This award validates their hard work and dedication to the mission of the Air National Guard and United States Air Force.”
Headquarters, ILANG was recognized for the exemplary way it executed its missions throughout the award period, which was dominated by COVID-19 response operations, civil disturbance missions, election support, and flood operations, while at the same time completing its overseas missions.
“In 2020, more than 700 members of the Illinois Air National Guard were mobilized as part of the largest domestic operations activation in Illinois Air National Guard history. Headquarters, Illinois Air National Guard, tasked the wings with the missions and funneled information to and from the activated units and to and from the Joint Operations Center,” said Illinois Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Dwyer of Champaign, Plans and Operations Officer, Illinois Air National Guard. “The headquarters tracked the information and personnel activated for the missions.”
Dwyer, a traditional Guardsman who serves as the Director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, said he, and the county, directly benefited from the activation for the COVID-19 response operations.
“Champaign County had a testing site which was stood up and operated by members of the Illinois Air National Guard as well as having two local liaisons assigned to the county’s emergency operations center,” he said. “The two liaisons actively participated in the briefings with the state agencies.”
Dwyer said the testing sites set up around the state made a huge impact in the COVID-19 response operations.
“The testing site in Champaign County was stood up and operated by Airmen from the 183rd Wing out of Springfield and the 126th Air Refueling Wing based at Scott Air Base,” Dwyer said. “It was a big deal and is still going strong operated by contractors.”
Dwyer said even though much of 2020 was controlled by COVID-19 restrictions, the ILANG found ways to connect with other worldwide partners.
“We were part of a panel discussion with Israel,” Dwyer said. “This virtual panel discussion allowed us to maintain our relationships and leads to improving their operations and ours.”
Illinois Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Christina Rizzo, now the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the 126th Air Refueling Wing, was among the ILANG members activated for the COVID-19 response operations. She spent her days as a county liaison for St. Clair County and the East St. Louis Health District.
As part of her duties, Rizzo briefed the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois National Guard Joint Staff a couple times daily.
“I worked with the commander and first sergeant – both Army, to gather the information which I would use to brief our government agencies,” she said.
Rizzo agrees it’s no small task Headquarters, Illinois Air National Guard, was honored for its work.
“Our motto is anytime, anywhere,” she said. “Our Airmen give all to serve and put others first. This award shows our Airmen are dedicated to go anytime and anywhere.”
Headquarters, ILANG was recognized for its community involvement as well.
According to the application submitted, ILANG Airmen volunteered with the local Team RWB chapter to forge health and wellness. The groups laid wreaths and flags at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, honoring the 28,000 veterans buried there. In addition, the group donated $1,000 in goods to the local library and homeless shelter.
The ILANG also directed an aviation flight science, technology, engineering and mathematics program with 30 Lincoln’s ChalleNGe Academy cadets supporting community outreach.
“The LCA was one of the first academies of its kind in the United States,” Dwyer said. “It’s run by the National Guard and mentors work with the cadets.”
As part of its outreach program, members of the Illinois Air National Guard educated local resident and businesses on the ILNG’s federal and state mission.
ILANG Chief Master Sgt. Jennifer Aurora, State Command Chief Master Sergeant, Illinois Air National Guard, said Headquarters, ILANG, certainly lives up to the U.S. Air Force’s core value of excellence in all we do.
“Excellence is going beyond the call of duty, striving and maintaining the highest standards,” Aurora said. “This award means Joint Force Headquarters – ILANG is doing their very best in everything, in every way!”