Selfridge Airmen Win Top ANG Honors

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  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Awards won by three members of the 127th Wing Public Affairs office prove that Citizen-Airmen can pursue their passions and still serve their nation in the Air National Guard.

Among a total of 10 awards won by the office in the annual National Guard Media Contest, Technical Sgt. Dan Heaton was named Air Force Print Journalist of the Year, Technical Sgt. Robert Hanet was named Air Force New Photographer of the Year and Staff Sgt. Rachel Barton finished in second place in the Air Force Broadcaster of the Year category, an unprecedented near sweep of the major awards in the competition. Each of the three Airmen began their military careers in different career fields, but later changed professions to align their service with their talents and interests.

In addition to the "of the year" awards, Heaton, Hanet and Barton won honors for two individual products each. The 127th Wing was also awarded second place in the best website category.

"This team, these public affairs professionals, continue to amaze me with their creativity, professionalism, and commitment to service," said Capt. Penny Carroll, chief of public affairs for the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. "With all of last year's budget issues driving serious concerns with the type and number of aircraft missions the ANG would maintain at Selfridge, we decided to bring our focus to the Airmen of this unit, the real face of the 127th. These awards are not just the results of this public affairs offices' efforts, but a showcasing of an exemplary Air National Guard family."

Heaton began his military career in the 1980s as a ground fuels specialist. After his initial service, he spent more than 13 years as a veteran, with no military affiliation. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, prompted him to re-enlist, initially with the U.S. Navy Reserve at Selfridge and, since 2005, with the 127th Wing. Heaton spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter and moved into military public affairs to be able to pursue his interest in writing and history.

"I am proof positive that there is a way for each person to use the talents that he or she has been given in a way that provides service to our nation and our community," Heaton said. "The stories of our Airmen fascinate me and they deserve to be told."

Heaton also won first place honors in the contest for a commentary article he wrote during a military exercise in Estonia, commenting on how the Estonian military has changed from Cold War-era adversaries to modern-day allies. The award was the second consecutive year Heaton earned first place in the commentary category. He also earned a first-place award for a series of articles on historic figures from the past 100 years who have served at Selfridge.

Hanet spent approximately 17 years, first in the active-duty Air Force and later with the Air National Guard at Selfridge, as a jet engine mechanic working primarily on F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. While working at Selfridge, he would periodically provide photos of A-10 deployments and other operations to the 127th Wing Public Affairs office through the Unit Public Affairs Representative, or UPAR, program.

"It was obvious that Rob had a real eye for photography from the start," said Master Sgt. Terry Atwell, manager of visual information and the senior enlisted member of the 127th Wing Public Affairs office. "When he expressed an interest in making a career change in the wing, we welcomed him in. Since then, he's brought a fresh perspective and an eagerness to learn and expand his craft to our office."

Hanet, who joined the public affairs career field officially in spring 2012, also earned third place honors in the documentation photo category for a photo taken during water rescue training for KC-135 air crews at Selfridge, and a third place award for a photo story montage showing an A-10 engine change at the base. A composite image of the A-10 engine story is currently the cover photo of the 127th Wing's Facebook page. The image features several of Hanet's former co-workers in the local engine shop.

"Although I loved my job as an engine mechanic, I felt disconnected from the rest of the wing," Hanet said. "Other than the minimal interaction with crew chiefs or the occasional specialist, I never got to know the other members of the wing. As a photojournalist, I get a chance to visit many shops around the wing and meet new and exciting people. I get a better understanding of the roles that the other sections play and learn about other people's jobs. Hopefully, I get a chance to photograph those individuals performing their jobs and capture that moment forever."

SSgt. Barton initially enlisted in the Air Force Reserve at Selfridge to serve as an operator in the 927th Air Refueling Wing's command post, which serves as the central command, control and communications point for the wing. When that unit was re-located to Florida, she searched for a way to use her talents with creating images as she sought out a new opportunity in the Air National Guard. Barton, who holds a fine arts degree from a local university, joined the 127th Wing Public Affairs office in 2008.

"Since the day she walked in the door, Rachel has been an eagle," Atwell said. "The quality of her work, her attitude, her willingness to work on any project is second to none."

In addition to finishing in second place as the military broadcast journalist of the year, Barton earned first-place awards in the TV spot production category, for a short promotional piece entitled "What Are You Doing This Weekend?"; and first place in the TV newsbreak category for one of several "127th Wing Airman Profile" videos she created in 2012.

Barton echoed her Public Affairs colleagues upon learning of her awards, saying: "I love my job because I get to work with an amazing team in Public Affairs.

"I also enjoy working on the creative challenges we face, and getting to experience firsthand so many different aspects of the Air Force and Air National Guard in order to tell people's stories," she said.

All of the first place winners will go on to compete at the Air Force level in their respective categories.

Comprised of approximately 1,600 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which is also home to units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.