Governor Cox and UDVMA recognize service members of the year at Utah Capitol

In News by Taylor Ricks


Salt Lake City, UT – Governor Spencer J. Cox, in partnership with the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs (UDVMA), held a special ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, to recognize the outstanding achievements of Utah's service members. The third annual State of Utah Servicemember of the Year Awards took place at the Utah State Capitol where awardees and their families met with Governor Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson before being recognized in a ceremony in the Rotunda. The awards ceremony celebrated service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Space Force, representing both active duty and reserve organizations. 

Photos from the ceremony can be viewed and downloaded HERE.

The 2023 State of Utah Servicemember of the Year Awards recipients in their respective categories are:

SrA KC Buckner, Utah Air National Guard - Enlisted Category: Airman First Class KC Buckner has showcased exceptional achievements and remarkable contributions in various areas. From dominating a joint Air/Army competition—becoming the first member of the Utah National Guard to win the Best Warrior of the Year competition and be selected as the Airman of the Year—and excelling in every event to providing life-saving care during critical emergencies, A1C Buckner's knowledge, skill, and dedication have set him apart. He has demonstrated his operational prowess by safely navigating a fire engine following a high-speed tire blowout and conceptualizing an innovative firefighter handbook that streamlines training. A1C Buckner's commitment extends beyond his military duties, as he volunteered for the Utah State COVID-19 task force, providing crucial support to vulnerable individuals. He is a strong advocate for the Utah Air National Guard and actively mentors young individuals, embodying the core values of integrity, service, and excellence. A1C Buckner's exceptional achievements and leadership make him a valued asset to the Air Force, the state of Utah, and his community.

PS1 Gregory Sessions, Navy Reserve Center Salt Lake - NCO Category: Petty Officer Gregory Sessions has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership and accomplishments during his tenure at the Navy Reserve Center Salt Lake City. As the Reserve Center's Leading Petty Officer, he flawlessly managed pay transactions with a total value of $1,940,000 and led a successful mobilization of 27 personnel worldwide. Alongside his responsibilities, Gregory pursued self-development, earning an associates degree in General Studies. He excelled as the Command Managed Equal Opportunity Officer, fostering cohesion, inclusion, and morale within the command. Gregory's dedication earned him recognition as Sailor of the Quarter and Navy Reserve Center Salt Lake City Sailor of the Year. Additionally, he served his community through the Funeral Honors Program, resolved outstanding claims, and designed impactful visual representations for the Navy Reserve Center.

SFC Eddie Quimby, Salt Lake Recruiting Army Battalion - Senior NCO Category: Sergeant First Class Eddie Quimby has consistently demonstrated exceptional professionalism and leadership throughout his service. He represented the United States Army as the Color Guard NCOIC for over 30 Utah Jazz games, captivating audiences of more than 450,000 fans and millions across the nation. His exceptional service was recognized when he organized the Color Guard for the esteemed National Basketball Association All-Star game, reaching a global viewership of over 4.9 million individuals. SFC Quimby's commitment to recruitment and partnership building shone through as he successfully organized and managed four recruiting and Reserve partnership councils, establishing enduring collaborations throughout multiple states. His performance earned him recognition as the top AGR NCO in the 6th Recruiting Brigade, and he was esteemed as the Top Station Commander for the Salt Lake City Army Recruiting Battalion. SFC Quimby provided invaluable mentorship to over 300 detailed recruiters and offered guidance to numerous Company Commanders and First Sergeants. Additionally, his expertise and intellectual acumen led to his selection as an instructor for the United States Army's Recruiting and Retention College. SFC Quimby's enduring relationship with the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for the state of Utah has been pivotal in advising on recruiting efforts throughout the region. His vast knowledge of Army Regulations and enlistment procedures facilitated the effective processing of over 2,000 applicants from Utah, further contributing to the Army's service mission.

SMSgt Randy Hyer, 419th Fighter Wing - 1st Sergeant: Senior Master Sergeant Randy Hyer has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership and commitment throughout his service. As Vice President and President of the First Sergeant Council, he raised over $1.3K to support seven Airmen in need. SMSgt Hyer's voluntary deployments and assistance in critical incidents showcased his dedication to mission readiness. His swift actions in addressing domestic abuse incidents saved lives, and his attention to detail led to flawless inspections and expert guidance for other First Sergeants. He mentored newly-selected First Sergeants, synchronized mental health resources for Airmen in crisis, and equipped families with disaster preparedness skills. SMSgt Hyer's conduct of quality force reviews and career retention discussions ensured unit readiness and reversed potential manning losses. His interventions prevented loss of life and imparted vocational expertise to cadets, highlighting his care for all Airmen.

SrA Cameron Phillips, 75th Air Base Wing - Honor Guard: Senior Airman Cameron Phillips consistently demonstrates exceptional dedication and performance. Hand-selected as the flight trainer, he successfully certified 17 individuals and completed 50 congressionally mandated events through over 390 hours of training. As the lead trainer, he instructed ceremonial skills and built community ties with 26 participants. His responsibility on the Colors team during a Brigadier General Change of Command ceremony ensured its success. Despite his rank, he flawlessly executed honors for 20 funerals and 4 change of commands. As the Uniform Instructor, he exceeded Air Force Honor Guard standards while certifying 12 new members. Cameron's leadership and training efforts were instrumental in the honorable recognition of 33 individuals and praised by the 75 ABW/CC. Additionally, his commitment to honoring fallen heroes and support for the Cadet Wings Honor Guard Program showcased his exceptional dedication. As the Honor Guard Supply lead, he demonstrated attention to detail and organizational skills in managing assets worth $100K.

MSG Christopher Sehy, Utah Air National Guard - Recruiter: Master Sergeant Sehy's exceptional performance as a recruiting NCO for the Utah Army National Guard is commendable. Despite the challenges of a demanding year, he far exceeded the standard by producing 165 percent of his assigned recruiting mission in fiscal year 2022. Sehy's exceptional work ethic and dedication as the number one recruiter in Utah in accessions have earned recognition from the Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He was also recognized as the Army National Guard Recruiter of the Year, the best in the nation. His involvement in the UVU Army ROTC program has been instrumental in shaping and achieving success for future Army officers. His contributions greatly contribute to the strength of the Utah Army National Guard, both through his work with the UVU Army ROTC program and his efforts in recruiting and mentoring new officers. Overall, Sehy's achievements demonstrate his commitment to the Utah Army National Guard's mission and the growth of the force. His dedication and professionalism have made a significant impact on the organization.

CW4 Deena Haag, Utah Air National Guard - Warrant Officer: Chief Warrant Officer Deena Haag is an exemplary leader and dedicated Army National Guard Warrant Officer Strength Manager. Her exceptional recruiting achievements, including exceeding her mission for Fiscal Year 2022 by 156%, have significantly enhanced the strength and readiness of the Utah Army National Guard. CW4 Haag's commitment to her recruits is evident through her personal support in programs. She actively serves the Warrant Officer community and contributes to enhanced recruiting strategies as the Public Affairs officer for Warrant Officer Association #228 Beehive Chapter and as the Recruiting and Retention Advisory Council Region VII Assistant for Warrant Officers. CW4 Haag's passion for taking care of Soldiers and her unwavering dedication make her a valuable asset to her team, unit, state, and country.

Capt Carly Donner, Marine Recruiting Station Salt Lake - Company Grade Officer: Captain Carly Donner has demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication in her role. She has effectively supervised administrative, logistics, legal, and supply support for a unit of over 80 Marines spread across 5 states, covering a vast area of 265,000 square miles, with headquarters and primary operations in SLC, Utah. Captain Donner ensured that all 12 stations and 10 smaller offices were properly equipped and supported, effectively managing a total budget of $997,000. Her outstanding work extended to overseeing the NROTC Scholarship Program, where she personally advertised, assisted, and facilitated 11 scholarship winners, with 5 in Utah alone, amounting to a cumulative value of approximately $2 million. Captain Donner's commitment to excellence is further exemplified through her involvement in conducting a thorough structure analysis, fostering relationships with high schools, coordinating marketing and outreach efforts, supervising musician selections, facilitating the Educator's Workshop program, and pursuing personal development through academic achievements and attaining various roles such as a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Uniformed Victim Advocate, Suicide Prevention Officer, and Voting Officer.

Maj Alexander Harvey, 388th Fighter Wing - Field Grade Officer: Major Harvey has shown exceptional leadership and achievements in various roles. He led mission planning cells and commanded airborne missions during Operation Atlas Guardian in support of US political delegations. He flew numerous combat air patrol missions to bolster NATO unity and deter Russian aggression. Major Harvey demonstrated his expertise in base defense exercises, flawless weapon employment, and establishing employment standards for NATO F-35s. He identified and corrected deficiencies in EUCOM's weapon sourcing plan and advocated for international interoperability. Additionally, he authored deployment guides, instructed procedures for groundbreaking exercises, and played a crucial role in the successful deployment of fully-armed F-35A sorties. Major Harvey's leadership and accomplishments have made a significant impact in his unit and their operational success.

Michael Simila, Sentinel Systems Directorate - Civilian 1: Mr. Simila's exceptional leadership and expertise have been instrumental in various high-profile projects. From leading a team in reviewing an extensive proposal for an $800M contract to spearheading the execution of a preliminary design review for a groundbreaking commercial nuclear fuze, his contributions have been crucial. He effectively communicated technical strategies to key stakeholders, fostered cooperation with the Department of Energy, and drove cross-service collaboration on critical technologies. Mr. Simila's innovative approach, meticulous documentation of requirements, and capability study have all significantly contributed to program success and enhanced operational capabilities.

Troy Johnson, Tooele Army Depot - Civilian 2: Troy Johnson has served with distinction for 38 years at Tooele Army Depot and the former Deseret Chemical Depot. His expertise as the "historian" and roles such as Installation Restoration Program Manager, Cultural Resource Manager, and Natural Resource Manager have been instrumental in managing a $170 million restoration program, fostering coordination with regulatory agencies, and building relationships with tribal communities. Troy's dedication extends to environmental conservation, public engagement, and protecting cultural resources. His contributions make him an invaluable asset to Tooele Army Depot and its mission.

Liliana Mada, Dugway Proving Ground - Civilian 3: Liliana Mada's nomination recognizes her exceptional contributions while serving as Test Officer at Dugway Proving Ground. Her accomplishments during the specified timeframe include leading validation and accreditation efforts for next-generation chemical agent threat detection capabilities. Mrs. Mada's guidance and decision-making were critical in ensuring these capabilities met test community requirements within resource constraints. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, she demonstrated flexibility and ingenuity to maintain operations and meet timelines. Her work supports the Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Enterprise, enhancing test and evaluation for threat point detection. Mrs. Mada's leadership and meticulous approach led to the successful completion of an 8-year effort for DPG's enhanced aerosol capabilities. Her team's development of safe processes for handling and testing novel threat materials highlights her commitment to safety and effectiveness. Mrs. Mada's Test and Evaluation Practitioner certification further demonstrates her expertise in the field.

C/Cpt (recently promoted to 2nd Lieutenant) Colby Lynch, University of Utah Air Force ROTC - ROTC: Cadet Colby Lynch served with exceptional skill and dedication as the Cadet Wing Commander, overseeing the training, discipline, character development, and mock wartime planning for 75 Air and Space Force officer candidates. As an outstanding ROTC cadet, Cadet Lynch achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA, obtained a 100% score on the physical fitness assessment (PFA), and received 5 awards for his exceptional performance. He expertly designed and implemented 48 physical training group exercise sessions, significantly improving the health, conditioning, fitness levels, and PFA scores of 68 trainees. As a result, our detachment achieved the impressive rank of #2 out of 145 in the nation. Colby's relentless dedication to leadership and development, as well as his remarkable achievements, earned him the prestigious ROTC Distinguished Graduate award, recognizing him as one of the top 10% cadets in the nation.

C/Lt Col Jonathan Kaiser, Utah Military Academy - JROTC: Cadet Jonathan Kaiser is an exceptional junior cadet, serving as the wing deputy commander and overseeing daily operations for over 350 cadets in the largest AFJROTC unit in the western US. He excels as a key member of the UMA armed drill team, winning the 2023 State Drill Championship, and leads multiple CyberPatriot Teams to success, including a 1st place state ranking. He was selected to attend the prestigious Cyber Academy and has demonstrated leadership by writing a comprehensive cadet guide. Cadet Kaiser also serves as the Honor Guard Commander, maintains a 3.5 GPA, holds national certifications in computer science, and is pursuing a pilot license. Respected by all, he is an outstanding cadet leader.

Barbara Riddle, Chamber West - 2022 Defense Community Champion: Barbara S. Riddle, the President and CEO of ChamberWest, is a remarkable advocate and recipient of the Defense Community Champion Award. Her tireless efforts in supporting Hill AFB and the dedicated Airmen and civilians who serve our nation are truly commendable. Barbara's extensive involvement, including her past roles as a LOGSTAR, 388th Fighter Wing Honorary Commander, and her membership in the Top of Utah Military Affairs Committee (TOUMAC), demonstrates her commitment to improving the quality of life for service members. Through her leadership as the Chair of the Quality of Life sub-committee, Barbara has significantly enhanced fundraising and expanded various programs to support servicemembers. Her initiatives, such as base recognition programs, military appreciation nights, and contributions to Quality of Life Programs, have made a positive impact on numerous military families. Notably, she has successfully organized over ten consecutive Salute to Our Nation's Defenders Picnics, growing the event to serve more than 4,000 military members and their families.