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SMC Announces Annual Award Winners

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LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced its outstanding military and civilian personnel for 2019, April 17.

SMC cancelled the award banquet in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however leadership still found a way to recognize the winners.

“Like many of the events that were planned during this time, our annual awards banquet had to, unfortunately, be cancelled,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, SMC commander and program executive officer for space. “However, we were able to get together [virtually] a couple of days ago and recognize each and every one of the winners!”

Gen. Thompson later stated that SMC still plans to honor the annual award winners in a more traditional fashion in person when conditions allow. 

Annual awards recognize Airmen who distinguish themselves through exceptional effort and accomplishments throughout the year.

SMC also added additional award categories for ‘EPIC Speed.’ The EPIC Speed awards recognize achievers in the focus areas of enterprise, partnership, innovation, culture and speed. EPIC Speed represents SMC’s tenets for accomplishing the mission to dominate with superior lethality throughout the space domain; aggressively deliver warfighter needs from a resilient, integrated enterprise; and relentlessly drive innovation, countering the threat by outpacing our adversaries’ reaction time.

Each of the winners will go on to compete at the U.S. Space Force level.

The following are the winners by category:

SMC Individual Award Winners:

Airman of the Year:  *Staff Sgt. Thomas D. Watts, SMC Portfolio Architect

Accomplishments include accelerating the global acquisition program manager network capability resulting in increased response time of 300 percent, as well as a 180-day deployment to Asia supporting two fighter squadrons exploiting over 1,600 targets, all while working toward his bachelor’s degree.

*Staff Sgt.Watts promoted prior to award announcement.

Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year:  Staff Sgt. Dwayne Cox Jr., 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include building a partnership with Edwards Air Force Base for training first-term Airmen fortifying the comprehensive Airmen fitness domains and earning praise from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Staff Sgt. Cox also built a database of mobile resources that saved the center 522 hours of work yearly. 

Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year:  Master Sgt. Bryan R. Bleck, 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include driving the unit deployment management organization restructure by reducing 36 positions to a five-member team, ultimately resulting in the $1.8 million in savings for the Air Force. Master Sgt. Bleck simultaneously earned 36 credits toward a bachelor’s of information technology. 

Company Grade Officer of the Year:  Capt. Deborah B. Kim, SMC Atlas Corps

Accomplishments include helping to lead the largest re-architecture in SMC’s 65-year history, which was completed more than one month ahead of schedule. Capt. Kim also developed a cost saving technique for three prototype section 804 programs, paving the way for a $20 billion satellite communications system. 

Field Grade Officer of the Year:  Maj. Stefanie J. Knox, 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include achieving the major command’s lowest non-mission capability percentage, at six percent, by expediting profile processing and streamlining the medical notes retrieval process. Maj. Knox also championed infection control by leading medical sterilization equipment installation resulting in a 99 percent dental medical readiness rate.

Enlisted Individual Mobilization Augmentee of the Year:  Senior Master Sgt. Michelle V. Williams, 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include developing the new structure of SMC aligning manpower and personnel to the appropriate positions and posturing the directorate of manpower and personnel for SMC’s re-architecture. Senior Master Sgt. Williams also earned her General Contracting license in less than four weeks.

Officer Individual Mobilization Augmentee of the Year:  Capt. Charlotte A. Merritt, SMC Production Corps

Accomplishments include leading a 20-member team to develop a cyber prototype that digitized command and control systems and modeled threats resulting in the identification of a vulnerability and its solution. Capt. Merritt simultaneously completed a nine-course program of over 250 hours to earn her certificate in personal financial planning. 

First Sergeant of the Year:  Master Sgt. Fabio A. Batista Sanchez, SMC First Sergeant

Accomplishments include advancing the base CGO course, deliberately developing 750 officers to meet the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s focus areas. In addition, Master Sgt. Batista Sanchez streamlined the adverse action program to cut out four redundancies and facilitate coordination between three base agencies ultimately saving one thousand man-hours per year for base leadership.

Ceremonial Honor Guardsman of the Year:  Staff Sgt. Lizet Ceja Farfan, 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include leading the Honor Guard team in the National Defense Intelligence Association presentation of colors, furthering local community relations. Staff Sgt. Farfan was also hand-picked to be an honor guard instructor where she trained 22 personnel and generated 931 hours of public service supporting 109 different events. 

Civilian Category I:  Aaron M. Solano, SMC Development Corps

Accomplishments include guiding his team from cost plus incentive fee to firm-fixed price in the record time of six months, avoiding a stop-work and saving $3 million resulting in advanced weather and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the Combined Space Operations Center. Solano simultaneously completed his Masters in engineering and 13 different acquisition training courses totaling 153 hours. 

Civilian Category II:  Jennifer L. Connot, SMC Atlas Corps

Accomplishments include contracting a $297 million award for three national security space launch missions critical to the National Reconnaissance Office and the DoD. In addition, Connot completed Contracting 360 for Business Leaders, a 60-hour course, earning her Acquisition Professional Development Program level-3.

Civilian Category III:  Megan M. Piersol, SMC Portfolio Architect

Accomplishments include educating taxpayers on the criticality of over 60 SMC programs as the congressional face of SMC. She analyzed over 5,000 pages of congressional documents, distilling their strategic intent to SMC leadership and enabling key U.S. Space Force decision points. Simultaneously, Piersol volunteered 20 hours with a non-profit organization by packaging over 1,000 books to expand literacy for California prisoners in five different prisons.

Civilian Supervisory Category V:  Mozhdeh E. Najafabadi, SMC Production Corps

Accomplishments include leading a 50-member payload team that identified and fixed a complex issue avoiding an eight-month schedule slip and keeping the mission on track. Additionally, Najafabadi also orchestrated a 40-member test team that fixed over one hundred payload and command and control discrepancies, allowing the program to move on to operational testing.  

EPIC Speed Junior Member:  Capt. Brittany L. Stackhouse, SMC Special Programs Directorate

Accomplishments include leading a 63-member joint team of U.S. and Japanese officials through preliminary design review, enabling operational delivery 12-months early for an international space vehicle partnership.  

EPIC Speed Senior Member:  Theodore P. Marrujo, SMC Development Corps

Accomplishments include leading the first Department of Defense mission launched from a 747, successfully saving $45 million by adding 180 launch sites to the DoD’s repertoire for a more resilient launch program. In addition, Marrujo commanded the DoD’s first international space launch fielding three critical research and development missions resulting in secure laser communications and Army intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance two years ahead of schedule.

SMC Unit Award Winners:

Support/Functional/Administrative Team:  Logistics Readiness Flight, 61st Air Base Group

Accomplishments include preparing 106 Airmen for overseas contingency support to four combatant commands by processing $205 thousand and over 180 orders. 

Mission Systems Team:  Kobayashi Maru Team, SMC Enterprise Corps

Accomplishments include building the first Space command and control (C2) system, delivering capabilities in under seven months and connecting the Combined Space Operations Center to three different partner nations.

EPIC Speed Team:  Space Test Program Rapid Space Access Team, SMC Development Corps

Accomplishments include leading a $30 million rapid launch in 18 months that was the first Air Force mission with a foreign site and new industry provider, which resulted in the expansion of DoD launch capabilities by 50 percent. The team also built a partnership with 11 nations to forge strategic alliances with the first international space rideshare process.

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