HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- --
Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen were recognized during the Air Commando Association’s convention from Oct. 24-27, 2019.
The convention included the presentation of the ACA Commander’s Leadership Awards and inductions into the Air Commando Hall of Fame.
The convention began with the ACA Heritage Seminar, during which the leadership awards were presented. The award recognizes AFSOC’s outstanding performers, who were all hand-chosen by their respective commanders for making the most significant contributions to mission accomplishment. The following Air Commandos received the award:
Staff Sgt. Marisol Burfield, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron
Tech. Sgt. Luke Cavanaugh, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron
Tech. Sgt. Jordan Churchill, 352nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Tech. Sgt. Eric Denman, 71st Special Operations Squadron
Maj. Brandon Downey, 492nd Special Operations Training Squadron
Capt. Christopher Hanson, 415th Special Operations Squadron
Tech. Sgt. Joaquin Hernandez, 711th Special Operations Squadron
Tech. Sgt. Amber Kaufman, 524th Special Operations Squadron
Capt. Ramiro Leenen, 1st Special Operations Squadron
1st Lt. Christopher Locke, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron
1st Lt. Jedrick Lyon, 352nd Special Operations Support Squadron
Staff Sgt. Aaron Matulac, 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron
Capt. Jefre Potterbaum, 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron
Capt. Daniel Sullivan, 27th Special Operations Group
Maj. Rylan Tanner, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron
Staff Sgt. Lindsey Vaillancourt, 353rd Special Operations Group
The day following the seminar featured the Air Commando Hall of Fame inductions, during which five AFSOC Airmen were honored.
The Air Commando Hall of Fame recognizes service members who made significant contributions to the readiness of AFSOC’s mission, served honorably and were assigned to AFSOC for no less than three years.
Retired Col. Dave Sammons served AFSOC throughout his 28-year career. While commanding the 15th Special Operations Squadron at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, Sammons’ leadership proved critical to many firsts for the Special Operations Forces missions. His leadership ultimately set the stage for the end of the Taliban rule.
Retired Col. Donnie Williams, AFSOC executive director of logistics, engineering and force protection, served AFSOC throughout his 25-year career and presently serves as a civilian. Williams served in a multitude of leadership positions involving operational, aircraft maintenance and logistics assignments. While commanding the 16th Aircraft Generation Squadron, AFSOC’s largest squadron, the unit earned four AFSOC and one Air Force Maintenance Effectiveness Awards as the best maintenance unit in the command and in the Air Force.
“I was honored just to be nominated,” said Williams. “I am absolutely overwhelmed to have been selected. It has been the privilege of my life to be a part of AFSOC and the Air Commando community. We’ve had tremendous commanders and leaders that supported me and my family through some challenging circumstances. I am grateful for the Chiefs that have guided and advised me and developed our enlisted force every step of the way. I am unbelievably proud of the Airmen, NCOs, young officers and civilians in our work force that selflessly take on the mission challenges every day.”
Williams offered comments about why serving is rewarding to him.
“I am happy to come to work every day and do my part to support our Air Commando mission,” said Williams. “I am proud to be a part of a greater team that works very well together to support our forces and our family members. There is nothing I’d rather do and no place I’d rather be than right here.”
Retired Lt. Col. Edward Reed served AFSOC as a Pave Low pilot. While serving at the 58th Special Operations Wing, Reed created the most sophisticated mission rehearsal, simulation and training architecture in the entire Department of Defense. His vision of highly realistic simulators was unparalleled.
Retired Senior Master Sgt. Maurice Kunkel (inducted posthumously) served more than eight years in Special Operations Weather assignments, including serving in Laos for six years. His expertise led to successful weather missions in every conflict from the war in Southeast Asia to today’s modern battlefield. Kunkel established, operated, and maintained clandestine weather observation sites in austere, hostile environments and trained weather observers throughout the country.
Retired Master Sgt. John Smith, AFSOC A2 intelligence analyst, served AFSOC for more than 46 years and presently serves as a civilian. Smith’s expertise was critical to the development of the modern day Special Tactics Training Squadron. Even after retirement, Smith continued to coach, train and mentor Air Commandos.
“I was a plank holder,” said Smith. “I went to the ST group under command of the legend, Coach John Carney. I was in ST from 1988 until my retirement in 1999. If ever you went to the dictionary and looked up being in the right place at the right time, my picture would be there. I was always fortunate enough to be there, be available, be ready, with the ST community and my career. We were all empowered to recognize opportunity, recognize need and to act on that.”
Smith plans to continue to serve AFSOC after his induction.
“It’s one of the most humbling things that has ever happened to me,” said Smith. “When you think of all the people that have been inducted before, to be identified with that group is quite humbling.”
*Editor’s note: information about the Air Commando Hall of Fame inductee’s accomplishments was gathered from the award citations.