Maine National Guard awards best of the best

Annual ceremony held for Outstanding Airman of the Year and Best Warrior

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AUGUSTA, MAINE (06/04/2023) (readMedia)-- On Sunday, June 4, the Maine National Guard held the 2023 Outstanding Airman and Best Warrior ceremony to recognize Maine soldiers and airmen who have distinguished themselves in their fields.

"All of you are here because you set the example for others to follow," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, Maine's adjutant general, to assembled family, friends and coworkers. "I think we can all agree we live in an increasingly complex world, one where we have to consistently be ready for how we might be called into service next. Your commitment to self-improvement, personal and unit readiness, and living the Army and Air Force values not only speaks volumes to others in uniform, it makes all of us that much more ready to face the next challenge. Thank you all for that, and thank you to all the families we have here supporting you. Family plays an enormous role in our organizational success."

Each service component has its own standards for selecting the award recipients.

The Army Best Warrior competition consists of fifteen events over a 36-hour period, designed to test soldiers' tactical abilities, technical competence and physical stamina. These events include an oral interview board, live fire weapons event, live fire stress shoot, timed written test, day and night land navigation, physical fitness test, 12-mile ruck march with 35lb pack, and various Army warrior task evaluations. State winners represent their state at the regional competition, and regional winners go on to the national event.

The Outstanding Airman of the Year program calls for each state's headquarters to select nominees in three categories: Airman, Non-Commissioned Officer and Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. Nominees for First Sergeant of the Year and Honor Guard Member of the Year are also submitted for their respective categories. Additionally, the Maine Air National Guard selects and recognizes a Company Grade Officer of the Year. All candidates are rated on their performance for the previous calendar year in the following areas: leadership, job performance, fitness, education, community service, and civilian employment.

Following the formal award presentations, all winners also received a command coin from Brig. Gen. Dean Preston and Brig. Gen. Frank Roy, commanders of the Maine Army and Air National Guard, respectively.

2023 Maine Army National Guard "Best Warrior" winners:

Soldier of the Year

Spc. Zakary Toothaker, 488th Military Police Company

Spc. Toothaker is from Jay and distinguished himself above his peers at his unit level competition last fall, won the state competition as the "Soldier of the Year" in April, and won the Region 1 Best Warrior Competition (New England, New York, New Jersey) in May. He will compete at the national competition in Alaska in July.

Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year

Sgt. Jacob Dow, 1136th Transportation Company

Sgt. Dow is from Eddington, Maine, and distinguished himself above his peers at his unit level competition last fall, won the state competition as the "NCO of the Year" in April, and represented the state at the Region 1 Best Warrior Competition in May. Sergeant Dow scored among the top 3 in every event during this competition, finished second in Region 1 in the NCO category, and will continue to prepare for the national competition in July, should the winner be unable to attend.

2023 Maine Air National Guard winners:

Outstanding Airman of the Year

Senior Airman Matthew Hamel, 265th Combat Communications Squadron

Senior Airman Hamel is from Windham and deployed to Headquarters, United States Air Forces Europe and Africa Command, working in the satellite communication operations office, where he supported 38 gateway access requests and 54 super high frequency satellite access requests, providing communications to North Atlantic Treaty Organization response forces deterring Russian aggression in support of the European Defense Initiative.

Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year

Tech. Sgt. Branden Barnikow, 265th Combat Communications Squadron

Tech. Sgt. Barnikow is from Topsham and deployed to Headquarters, United States Air Forces Europe and Africa Command, where he spearheaded six communications requirements, coordinating necessary bandwidth upgrades to six organizations supporting the European Defense Initiative which enabled four MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles to maintain 180 flights, accumulating 1,900 flying hours.

Outstanding Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year

Senior Master Sgt. Kyle Milan, 101st Civil Engineering Flight

Senior Milan is from Old Town and deployed to U.S. Central Command's Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia as a Fire Chief. During this time, he was the incident commander for five large incidents involving unexploded ordinance, a large fuel spill, and a mass casualty event where he directed 25 first responders with zero lives lost.

Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year

Master Sgt. Scott Morrill, 101st Medical Group

Master Sgt. Morrill is from Bar Harbor and initiated the "MAINEiac for a Day" event for the Gross family whose father was killed in the line of duty for the Hancock County Sheriff's Department. The mother brought their two children, and each brought a friend for the day's events where they toured the hangar and KC-135, utilized the flight simulator, experienced the boom simulator, and were presented with several MAINEiacs gifts and apparel. The event was lauded by all and very much appreciated by the Gross family.

Outstanding Honor Guard Member of the Year

Tech. Sgt. Chelsea Kennie

Tech. Sgt. Kennie is from Standish and served as the lead non-commissioned officer of the Honor Guard for multiple retirement ceremonies in addition to providing process improvements through fine tuning procedural instruction for Honor Guard members, resulting in precision close order drill movements during the station's ceremonies.

Outstanding Company Grade Officer of the Year

1st Lt. Matthew Stewart, 243rd Engineering and Installation Squadron

Lt. Steward is from Brunswick and was hand selected as the Director of the Maine Air National Guard Special Programs where he expertly identified capabilities of the Depot Cyber Fielding Team to support mission requirements for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and Mission Planning System divisions resulting in 3.7 Million dollars of manpower and 650 thousand dollars of travel and material procurement funding to support five Air Force weapons systems.


Maine National Guard photos by Maj. Carl Lamb / Released

Photos identification:

762 - Dow

771 - Toothaker

781 - Hamel

788 - Barnikow

798 - Milan

807 - Morrill

818 - Kennie

828 - Stewart