Willging, Yeats and Taylor honored as top Kentucky Airmen of the Year

Story by Senior Airman Joshua Horton, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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The Kentucky Air National Guard’s Airman of the year, Senior Airman Robert William Willging (center), combat controller, 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, is honored with the Kentucky’s Enlsited Exceptional Performance Award (K.E.E.P.), during the awards presentation March 14, in Louisville, Kentucky. The annual Outstanding Airman and Soldier of the Year awards dinner honors Kentucky’s finest Airmen and Soldiers who are recognized by their peers for dedicating themselves to the welfare and security of our nation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Senior Airman Robert W. Willging, Tech Sgt. Don A. Yeats and Master Sgt. Zakiya A. Taylor were honored at a banquet March 14 as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2014.

The three Airmen, chosen from of pool of 18 nominees, were selected because of their leadership and performance in their primary duties, dedication to self-improvement, and community involvement, according to Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson of the Kentucky Air National Guard Chiefs’ Council, which selects the winners.

Willging, winner of the Airman category, is a combat control specialist in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. In the past year, he has displayed judgment beyond his pay grade in flawlessly controlling more than 30 surgically precise air strikes to kill enemies while protecting civilians, according to his supervisor, Master Sgt. Russ Lemay. Willging voluntarily deployed for 138 days to Afghanistan as the sole Airman directing air power for an Army Special Forces team, killing 110 terrorists and destroying 16 enemy fighting positions and vehicles.

2015 Outstanding Soldier and Airmen of the Year Banquet

The Kentucky Air National Guard’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Tech. Sgt. Don Yeats (center), radio maintenance craftsman, 123d Special Tactics Squadron, is honored with the Kentucky’s Enlsited Exceptional Performance Award (K.E.E.P.), during the awards presentation March 14, in Louisville, Kentucky. The annual Outstanding Airman and Soldier of the Year awards dinner honors Kentucky’s finest Airmen and Soldiers who are recognized by their peers for dedicating themselves to the welfare and security of our nation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

“I could not think of a more deserving award for Senior Airman Willging than Airman of the Year,” Lemay said. “Rob’s accomplishments in 2014 were truly remarkable. In the Special Tactics community, our operators are already working alongside a highly motivated and carefully selected force. To stand out amongst such elite company is a testament to Rob’s talent, dedication and hard work.”

Yeats, winner of the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a radio transmission systems specialist for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. He led the development of a maritime communication system and repurposed communications suite that allows mission commanders to track and direct surface forces from airborne platforms. He accomplished this while utilizing existing hardware and software solutions, saving more than $500,000 in the process, according to his supervisor, Master Sgt. Frank Tallman. Yeats also designed and implemented a mobile command-and-control suite that is now the standard for all deployed Special Tactics operations centers.

“Tech Sergeant Yeats is the most technical- and tactical-minded person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Tallman said. “He is an absolutely vital part of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.”

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The Kentucky Air National Guard’s Master Sgt. Zakiya Taylor, services unit training manager, Force Support Squadron, 123d Airlift Wing, is honored with the Kentucky’s Enlsited Exceptional Performance Award (K.E.E.P.), during the awards presentation March 14, in Louisville, Kentucky. The annual Outstanding Airman and Soldier of the Year awards dinner honors Kentucky’s finest Airmen and Soldiers who are recognized by their peers for dedicating themselves to the welfare and security of our nation. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

Taylor, winner of the Senior NCO category, is a food service manager in the 123rd Force Support Squadron. She is a Bronze Star recipient, having earned the award for service in Afghanistan as part of Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team V, a multi-disciplinary task force charged with helping the nation develop a sustainable farming economy. In addition, Taylor served as an Army ROTC cadre leader in Burkina Faso, Africa, mentoring eight U.S. Army cadets while also teaching English and sharing cultural practices with Burkina Faso students at Namoano Georges Military Academy.

“Master Sergeant Taylor is an exceptional Airman,” said her supervisor, Master Sgt. Karen D. Parrish. “She is passionate about her family, friends and co-workers, and puts her heart into everything she does. Her positive attitude and ever-present military bearing make her a role-model for the younger Airmen.”

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