Soldier, NCOs of the year honored at annual awards banquet

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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The 2015 Kentucky Army and Air National Guard’s Outstanding Soldiers, Airmen and NCOs of the year were 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 Guar photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky.Kentucky Soldiers of the Year stand united, ready to represent the Bluegrass at regional competition

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” is a phrase most Kentuckians see daily, yet may not even realize it. It’s the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s motto, etched on the seal and embroidered on the state flag.

Marine Sgt. Maj. Gary Smith, 4th Marine Logistics Group, command senior enlisted leader, reminded the attendees of the 2015 Outstanding Airmen and Soldier of the Year Banquet of the importance of the motto during his keynote remarks, specifically for Guardsmen.

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The Kentucky Army National Guard’s Soldier of the Year, Spc. Christopher Jones (right), an infantryman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry (Mountain Warriors), stands with his battalion leadership following the Outstanding Airman and Soldier of the Year banquet March 14, in Louisville, Kentucky. Jones said his leadership, which includes Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Roberge, the 2014 Senior NCO of the year, helped prepare him for the competition and experience as a means to pass the torch to younger generations of the Mountain Warriors. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133 MPAD)

“In keeping with the motto of this great, American state – Kentucky – ‘united we stand, and divided we fall,’” he said. “In the totality of the Kentucky National [Army] and Air Guard, you all must emulate this motto all the time.

“And I believe you do it exceptionally well,” he said.

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Smith was the senior enlisted leader for operations in the Horn of Africa when the Kentucky National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery deployed there in 2012 in support of operations in the region.

“Not only are you nationally known,” he told the audience of more than 400, “but you are well established on the international level. Your legacy and reputation may have got you there, your talent has, and will keep you in the game.”

Smith said that the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard’s ability to thrive in joint environments is what keeps the organization successful, and what made the awards evening exceptional. Smith said all service branches were represented either by uniformed personnel or the retirees in the audience.

For the Army Guard honorees, the awards banquet recognized their efforts after nearly a year of preparations that included intense studying for company-level, all the way to state-level, competitions and boards, and extreme mental and physical determination. An opportunity for senior leaders to congratulate the Army Guard Soldiers before they depart for the regional competition held in the Virgin Islands in April.

“The entire state has put forth the effort into us to succeed,” said Staff Sgt. Jessie Mascoe, fire directional specialist, Bravo Battery, 1/623 Field Artillery, and the 2015 NCO of the Year for Kentucky.

“It makes it a lot easier when you have people who back you, you know you’re not the only one,” Mascoe said about the preparations leading up to the regional competition. “Sgt. 1st Class Taheny is our sponsor, so our success rests on his shoulders as well.”

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The Kentucky Army National Guard’s Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the year, Sgt. 1st Class Jay D. Taheny, Kentucky Recruiting and Retention Battalion, 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)

Sgt. 1st Class Jay Taheny, a recruiter for the Kentucky National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, said his experience training new recruits for Basic Combat Training proved helpful for his role as sponsor for the Kentucky delegation. As Senior NCO for Kentucky, he has developed a training plan to ensure the Kentucky team is ready to stand out among the competitors.

“Sgt. Maj. Smith talked tonight about engaging the heart, and that’s classic leadership in my mind,” Taheny said.

“You can send people emails and tell people what to do all day long, but unless you actually go out there and show them what to do, and lead by example, you’re never going to earn the respect and without respect, you’re a leader in name, but not a leader in person.”

Taheny said it’s important to help train the Soldier and NCO of the year before the competition so that Kentucky competes as a united front.

For Spc. Christopher Jones, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry (Mountain Warriors), the attention to his own personal success by leaders at every level is what has inspired him to become a better Guardsman and a fierce competitor. With an Expert Infantryman Badge under his belt, he said the knowledge passed down from his fellow infantrymen is crucial to his success.

“They are a really good support group. They are always there, and I really appreciate everything they do for me,” Jones said. Even if that means picking up the phone anytime of day for personal related issues, at a second’s notice, they are there.”

Jones credited Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Roberge for mentoring him throughout the competition. He said the partnership was like a “torch being passed,” to him, which he will pass along next year to another Soldier within the Mountain Warriors.

Continuing the cycle – “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

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