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AZANG star performers shine at OAY banquet

Tech. Sgt. Michael Brizuela, Outstanding Honor Guard Member of the Year from the 162nd Fighter Wing, salutes Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, Arizona Adjutant General at the Arizona Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airman of the Year banquet March 7.  (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah Elliott)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Brizuela, Outstanding Honor Guard Member of the Year from the 162nd Fighter Wing, salutes Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, Arizona Adjutant General, at the Arizona Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airman of the Year banquet March 7. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Sarah Elliott)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Air National Guard gathered under the evening sky to celebrate its star performers at the Outstanding Airman of the Year Banquet held here March 7, at the Westin La Paloma Resort.

The OAY banquet is an annual celebration honoring the best of the best in the Arizona Air National Guard. Supervisors nominate Airmen based on criteria focusing on the Airman's exceptional service in the military and community.

Out of 17 nominees, only seven Airmen took home the honors in their respective categories for 2009.

The 2009 Arizona Airmen of the Year are:

Airman of the Year:  Senior Airman Jared Sawyer, assigned to the 107th Air Control Squadron.

Noncommissioned Officer of the Year:  Tech. Sgt. Robin Lafferty, assigned to Detachment 2, Joint Force Headquarters, Arizona Air National Guard.

Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year:  Master Sgt. Jesse Bautista, assigned to the 107th Air Control Squadron.

Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year:  Senior Master Sgt. Barbara Alexander, assigned to the 161st Air Refueling Wing.

Outstanding Honor Guard Member of the Year:  Tech. Sgt. Michael Brizuela, assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing.

Command Chief Master Sergeant Award:  Tech. Sgt. Jason Handa assigned to the 162nd Fighter Wing.

Major General Donald L. Owens Junior Officer of the Year Award:  Capt. Austin Moore, assigned to the 214th Reconnaissance Group.

Chief Master Sgt. Jonathan Rosa of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, was the guest speaker. The highly-decorated combat controller recalled his account of experiences as an Airman post Sept. 11, and the future of the Air Guard as forward deployers.

"The work of our Air Force never ends," he said. "Our Airmen are serving in more than 120 countries world-wide and the legacy of your service inspires them to answer the call of duty. The eyes of the world are upon you. At the end of everyday you will know that you have faithfully done your duty and that you will always bring the high standards of the United States Air Force. On behalf of the nation, I congratulate each of you on the awards you've earned and to the credit you bring to the Air Guard and the Air Force."

Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, Adjutant General for the state of Arizona, thanked the winners on stage, their family members, coworkers and supervisors for their contributions in supporting the annual award winners.

"It's always nice to see the reactions of the family and friends of the winners. I want to thank each of them for supporting these individuals. Congratulations to each of the winners as well on your well deserved recognition," said General Salazar.

Brig. Gen. Michael Colangelo, Arizona Air National Guard commander, also congratulated the winners and expressed pride in the Guardsmen.

"What a great evening for the Arizona Air National Guard. It has been tremendous. We have some of the most professional, highly trained and highly motivated Airmen in the world," he said.

In addition to trophies, all award winners were presented with mementos, gift certificates and coins.

"This has been a 're-blueing' experience for me," said Airman of the Year winner, Senior Airman Jared Sawyer. "I'm proud to be surrounded by my family and supervisors. I'm especially proud to be part of the Air Force."

"This has been overwhelming. There is so much good competition out there. I attribute this achievement to the support of my family and the people I work with. Winning this award is not about us here today, it's about the Airmen who will lead us tomorrow. They are our future," said First Sergeant of the Year winner, Senior Master Sgt. Barbara Alexander.

The Arizona OAY winners will now compete against other states' outstanding personnel for the honor of being named one of the Air National Guard's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

The Air Force's Airman of the Year program was initiated at the Air Force Association's conference of 1956. The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, a general officer and selected MAJCOM command chiefs form the selection board.