PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. - The morning of Sept. 13, a bus of endurance athletes from around the globe left Nairobi, Kenya, and rumbled hundreds of miles into the vast wilderness of East Africa.

After their seven-hour journey, the cramped and sweaty passengers stepped off the bus and into their base camp at the Lewa Conservancy. That was just the beginning. The runners would embark on a 143-mile ultramarathon across four wildlife conservancies to support wildlife rangers who protect Africa’s most endangered species.

First across the finish line was Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Delorey, the superintendent of health services with the 157th Medical Group. He finished 41 minutes ahead of the second-place competitor.

“It was challenging, the heat we were in, the environment, the mental grit, all of it,” said Delorey. “When I crossed the finish line, I was emotional. My heart and mind couldn’t be fuller from this journey.”

Over five days, Delorey trekked along winding dirt roads through baking grasslands, rocky hills, riverbeds and mountain forests teeming with East African wildlife.

“We were out in the wild with all of the beautiful animals, following the roads and paths that the rangers use to navigate around while they are protecting the wildlife,” Delorey explained. “A small percentage of the time, we were running through very small rural villages and meeting the people and the children that lived there.”

The race legs varied from 24 to 30 miles each day. The runners passed three checkpoints during the daily stages with available water and medical care.

“We had the checkpoints for security and refueling,” Delorey said. “A couple sections we were running within feet of these enormous baboons, Cape buffalo and elephants. The rangers and directors did everything in their power to make the course safe, but you still had to be vigilant running on the animals’ land.”

The runners finished the first four stages at temporary base camps built by teams of race crew. The tents were settled around a community structure and a fire pit.

“There was a ton of value in the nights by the fire, sharing stories and hearing about the lives of people,” Delorey said. “It makes you realize how important and how much value there is in connecting with humans from other parts of the world.”

“We learned more about the whole reason why we were there, too,” he said. “The rangers who are protecting the wildlife knew anything and everything about the plants we saw, the landscape and the animal behaviors. It was so inspiring. They were wonderful humans and just true warriors.”

The For Rangers Ultra raises money for the welfare of wildlife rangers. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, poaching of rhinos and elephants has reached catastrophic levels in the past decade.

“It’s an incredibly dangerous job,” Delorey said. “The rangers risk their lives every day protecting the beautiful populations that have been decimated through poaching and industrialization. The whole race gave me a better understanding of conservation and appreciation for the rangers’ work.”

Delorey originally planned to compete in September of 2020, but the race was postponed two years in a row during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a couple times during his training that he would share setbacks, but they never got in his way,” said Maj. Michelle Mastrobattista, the administration officer for the 157th MDG. “He was bummed when the race was postponed, but he took it as a chance to train more. He was always positive and had a great attitude.”

After waiting through global setbacks and becoming a father in the year before the event, Delorey said the journey felt surreal.

“I felt very prepared,” he said. “I think there are a lot of similarities to how you approach goals in the military and how you approach them in endurance races. You have to constantly go through your checklist and it’s all really strategic. You can’t let your mind wander too much because there are so many things going through your head to make sure you are running efficiently and safely. The same way you do in the military.

“I think my experiences in the Air Force have made me stronger for this race that certainly tested my resolve,” he added. “[The Air Force] has taught me how to cope with challenges, navigate obstacles and adapt in real-time.”

Delorey said he felt relieved as he crossed the finish line, but this race was just the beginning.

“I loved it and I think I found my niche in terms of athletics,” he laughed. “It’s a challenge personally and I love what I gain from being around the other athletes competing.

“My wife is so supportive and my family is really the reason I’m able to do this,” he added. “They make me excited for what is on the horizon. My biggest takeaway is I want to keep going.”

NEW YORK – Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, with stubble on his chin, Tech. Sgt. Jamie Brisbin, a pararescueman now assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, remembers arriving in Okinawa, Japan, and boarding a waiting C-130 to head to a flooded cave in Thailand June 27, 2018.

As depicted in the Amazon Prime film “Thirteen Lives,” a Thai soccer team of 12 boys aged 11 to 16 and their 25-year-old coach were exploring Tham Luang Cave when monsoon rains caused it to flood and trap them.

At the time, Brisbin was a pararescueman with the 31st Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

Brisbin and Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, a flight surgeon commanding the 106th Medical Group, were among the U.S. military personnel who helped make the dramatic rescue possible.

After arriving at the mouth of the cave at 2 a.m. June 28, with 30 other Airmen assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group, Brisbin asked to be taken to the farthest part of the cave accessible without diving to determine the terrain.

It was immediately evident this was a chaotic, constantly changing situation that did not look good, Brisbin said.

“A lot of times, it’s a strong possibility that you’re doing a body recovery, you’re not doing a rescue,” Brisbin said.

But when a team of British cave divers discovered the boys 2.5 miles into the cave, things looked better, Brisbin recalled.

“But finally, they found all these kids, miraculously still alive after nine days with no food, no light and contaminated water. That was a critical turning point for us,” he said.

With nine chambers between the patients and the cave exit, it would take extensive planning and focus to evacuate the children safely.

On July 4, 2018, halfway around the world, Rush received a phone call from Master Sgt. Derek Anderson in Thailand. Anderson, the senior enlisted leader on the rescue mission, was calling for Rush’s input and expertise.

Rush was the highest-ranking military medical resource involved for the Americans.

He was able to tap into his network of medical and diving experts across the nation to help determine strategies to rescue the children.

With input from a pediatric anesthesiologist who was an Air Force flight surgeon, the New York City fire department dive team commander and his medical experience and knowledge of pararescue operations, Rush offered critical advice on how to proceed.

Most of the children could not swim and were weakened due to a lack of food and clean water. It was decided the patients would be sedated for extraction from the cave.

Keeping the patients sedated reduced the chance of something going wrong should a child panic underwater, such as a patient’s scuba mask getting dislodged.

Plastic stretchers were also used, allowing the kids to be hooked to ropes and pulleys to traverse vertical rescue-type conditions throughout the labyrinth of the cave.

The Thai leadership on site wanted to know the United States supported launching the mission, Rush said.

Rush provided that assurance.

Everything had to be planned in precise detail, and every person knew exactly what area of the cave they were going to be working in, Brisbin recalled.

As an avid cave diver outside the military, Brisbin was one of a very small group capable of accomplishing the task.

As the pararescueman with the most cave diving expertise, Brisbin fully understood the risks the team was taking to save these children and their coach.

Divers were stationed at the nine cave chambers that lay between life and death for the soccer team. Brisbin was between chambers two and three, near the cave’s opening.

He and Tech. Sgt. John Merchand, a fellow 31st Rescue Squadron pararescueman, were in a partially submerged narrow tunnel approximately 2 feet wide and 100 to 150 feet long. Their task was to move the boys from chamber three to two with zero visibility.

With 13 divers stationed at the chambers in the cave, it took approximately nine hours to lead four boys per day to safety, Brisbin recalled.

Over 90 divers from around the world were stationed throughout the cave to perform medical checkups and resupply air tanks.

Rush advised that pediatric anesthesiologists or pediatric emergency physicians meet the patients when they emerged from the cave to provide advanced resuscitation capabilities if needed.

“I can’t emphasize enough that there are a handful of people in the world like PJs who can support a rescue like this,” Rush said.

“There is literally only one organization in the world that trains to this level as rescue specialists, that can do this totality of rescue specialized operations, and it is an honor for me to support these guys. They are amazing human beings,” he said.

After 18 days and an arduous three-day extraction, all 13 team members were rescued.

“I feel really proud that I was chosen. That my leadership thought, ‘Bring this guy, he’s going to help make a difference,’” Brisbin said. “I also have a lot of pride in just being a part of this community.”

JAKARTA, Indonesia – In packed conference rooms, dozens of U.S. service members engage with counterparts from the Indonesian armed forces at Exercise Gema Bhakti 2022. The discussions are broad, from friendly banter to talks on joint operations doctrine.

Participants exchange ideas and make friendships, but one thing is evident: a language barrier exists.

For one Soldier, the language barrier is not an issue. Army Sgt. Aditya Utoyo converses with ease in Indonesian and English. Utoyo’s native tongue is Bahasa Indonesia, making him one of the most valued participants at the exercise.

Raised in Indonesia before coming to the United States, Utoyo, a transportation management coordinator assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard Joint Force Headquarters, has seen his share of overseas assignments in a military career of nearly a decade.

His mastery of Bahasa and practical experience with Indonesian culture have brought him back to the country of his youth to act as an interpreter and cultural expert for the many U.S. service members participating in GB22.

“It’s really rewarding working with the Indonesian soldiers at the same time with other U.S. military services,” Utoyo said. “I feel at home with both parties, to tell you the truth.”

Utoyo is among an array of experts assembled by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to participate in GB22.

Gema Bhakti, Indonesian for “echo of good deeds,” is a staff exercise between USINDOPACOM and the Indonesian armed forces to improve joint, operational staff planning and processes and promote positive military relations.

“It’s an honor to be part of this team, really,” said Utoyo. “Being from both Indonesia and the U.S., I have a unique interest in seeing that this exercise is successful, and it really opens my eyes seeing how involved operations planning really is.”

While most exchanges between U.S. and Indonesian personnel go on without a hitch, Utoyo steps in when language nuances and subtleties need to be bridged.

“A lot of the Indonesian soldiers are amazed when we meet for the first time,” said Utoyo. “I feel like when they discover that Iʻm originally from here, it goes a long way in making everyone feel comfortable.”

Higher education brought Utoyo to the United States in 2009 after high school. While attending college on the East Coast, a chance encounter with an Army recruiter offered a way to pay for college and become a U.S. citizen.

A program authorized the military to recruit qualified non-citizens whose skills were vital to the national interest.

Utoyo’s mastery of Bahasa qualified him for the program.

“Joining the Army has been life-changing,” Utoyo said. “When I was growing up, I never thought this could be a reality. Now I have two daughters who were both born in the U.S., and service has been so important to me and my family.”

Utoyo serves as an interpreter and a resource for fellow service members who have questions about Indonesian culture. For Utoyo, sharing Indonesian culture while being able to befriend Indonesian counterparts is the highlight of GB22.

Now in its 10th iteration, Gema Bhakti is proving to be a strong international exercise with staying power. Indonesia, along with other allies and partner nations, is an essential strategic partner in promoting regional peace and stability.

For Utoyo, Gema Bhakti provides an opportunity to do good for the two countries near and dear to his heart.

“If they ask me back, thatʻs an easy one,” said Utoyo. “Yes indeed, I’d come back. It would be an honor to support the program as an interpreter for future engagements.”

CHICAGO – Thelma Barrios, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, was just 4 years old and didn’t know a single word of English when she moved to Chicagoland from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Master Sgt. Barrios is now the senior human resources noncommissioned officer for the more than 1,700 Soldiers of the 108th Sustainment Brigade. And she is one of only 21 service members from across the nation selected as a national 2022 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Award recipient.

Although born in Laredo, Texas, she spent most of her childhood until 4 in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, when her mother moved to Chicago with Barrios and her three siblings.

“I remember getting off of a Greyhound bus in Chicago,” Barrios said. “It was snowing, and it was the first time I had seen snow.”

“Master Sgt. Barrios’ family is among thousands who came to the United States for the opportunity for a better life,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the adjutant general of Illinois and commander of the Illinois National Guard. “Through hard work and determination, she was able to provide a better life for herself and her family. We are proud to have such an extraordinary Soldier in our ranks.”

The Distinguished Military Service Awards will be presented during the 19th National LATINA Symposium Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. The 2022 Latina Style Distinguished Military Service Awards celebrate the accomplishments of women in the military and the Department of Defense civilian workforce who, through their service, have enhanced the role of Latinas in their organization and the DOD.

Barrios enlisted into the Illinois Army National Guard in 1999, expecting just to serve her initial contract and earn enough money to pay for college.

“I was a 23-year-old single mother working a midnight shift while still going to college full-time,” Barrios said. “I can remember working late one evening and being totally exhausted. I passed an Army National Guard sign that said that 100% tuition would be paid by joining. It was still one of the hardest decisions that I had to make at that time because my daughter was only 3 years old, and it meant I’d have to leave for training.”

Barrios’ mother, Martha, watched her daughter, also named Martha, when she shipped off to basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, a month later. “I knew that obtaining my college degree was something that I really wanted to do and it was important because it meant I’d be the first in my family to do so.”

Barrios would graduate from Robert Morris University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in business administration management. She has worked full-time for the Illinois Army National Guard as an Active Guard Reserve Soldier since 2009. Barrios now lives in Manhattan, Illinois, with her husband. She has five adult children and four grandchildren.

In her spare time, Barrios volunteers for the National Guard Association of Illinois as the only Latina elected representative. She also volunteers with Guardian Angels Community Services, the Groundwork Domestic Violence Program, as a court-appointed special advocate for children, and with the Illinois Foster Adoptive Parent Association.

Barrios’ influence extends through all echelons of the Illinois Army National Guard, as well as her community.

As the brigade’s senior human resources noncommissioned officer, she has mentored and guided countless individuals on career management in the civilian and military fields. As a trained military equal opportunity leader, she has been instrumental in implementing the Brigade Diversity and Inclusion mentoring program.

Over the years, Barrios has gained the respect and admiration of the Soldiers around her, particularly junior enlisted Soldiers.

Barrios takes great pride in her Latin heritage and wants other Latinas to know they can accomplish their goals. “Our formations are composed of so many demographics and is so culturally diverse.”

Barrios said the award can be encouraging to those who come from similar backgrounds. There are others who “didn’t know a single word of English” when they arrived, and they, too, can accomplish a lot, she said.

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. - On a gorgeous July day in Pelham, Senior Airman Amy Granfield, a public health technician with the 157th Medical Group, was enjoying her day off wake surfing on Long Pond when she was called to action.

“One of my goals this summer was to get up on the surfboard off the back of the boat,” Granfield said. “My brother and I were wake surfing pretty much all morning with our friends Joe and Eric, and it was the first time I really got it.

“We had planned to go pick up Joe’s daughter that morning,” she explained. “Joe was surfing at the time, so we stopped the boat, he climbed back in and that’s when everything happened.”

A Jet Ski traveling at a high rate of speed crashed into the side of Granfield’s boat, knocking Granfield, her brother, and Eric overboard.

“I didn’t see them coming until they were about 5 feet away,” she said. “My brother, fortunately, saw them from further away, but you know when you see someone flying on a Jet Ski, you don’t think they’re going to hit you; you think they’re going to turn.

“They just kept getting closer and closer and he started screaming, ‘Joe, move the boat, move the boat!’,” she said. “My brother and Eric barely jumped off. I was flung off the back and Joe ducked into the front of the boat.”

The female operator of the Jet Ski and her passenger ended up in the water, severely injured. Granfield said all she remembers is a catastrophic crashing sound, then silence.

“It was as if there was no one on the lake, then as soon as I came up out of the water, everyone was on the lake and coming towards us,” she recalled. “I heard Joe from the boat yell, ‘Is anyone dead?’ and that’s when the panic set in.”

Granfield swam to the boat to find her brother John, Eric and Joe all alive with minor injuries. Then she saw the girls in the water. One was floating in and out of consciousness, and the other injured her leg severely and was losing a lot of blood.

“I swam over as fast as I could to the girl with the injuries, and Eric helped me get her onto the swim platform. Her entire patella bone was exposed and she was losing so much blood,” Granfield said. “That’s when I yelled for a tourniquet, but nothing ever happens on the lake, so no one was carrying a tourniquet. I told Eric to get me the ski rope and we tied it as tight as we could.”

The team of four restarted the boat and drove the Jet Ski operator and passenger to the closest beach, where a police officer was waiting. Granfield and the officer applied a tourniquet and transferred the patient to paramedics.

“Granfield’s quick thinking and courage to help saved a life,” said Maj. Gen. David Mikolaities, adjutant general New Hampshire National Guard. “It’s these values and virtues under the uniform that matter and remind all of us what it truly means to serve.”

Granfield said she would not have been able to do what she did without her training and the family and friends she had with her that day.

“The combination of both my military training and clinical site work was the reason I knew what to do,” she said. “I didn’t have to think because we do so many trainings. It was ingrained in me, but I really couldn’t have done it without John, Eric and Joe.

“We train in the military as a team, and we learn that by doing things as a team, everything is more efficient and more successful,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened on the boat. We were the perfect team.”

Granfield plans to continue her nursing education and stay in orthopedic patient care. She said that while she is still shaken up from the accident, she plans to get back on the surfboard.

“Next year for sure,” she said. “Right now, I work full time at an orthopedic center, working with bones and doctors, and this experience just reinforced how much it means to me. I love patient care; I love taking care of people.”

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – Three years of training led to one very important day. Over the Vermont mountains, history was made at 20,000 feet.

It wasn’t the first time for the 158th Fighter Wing. In 2019, it was the first wing in the Air National Guard to receive the F-35A Lightning II.

As the only wing in the Guard to fly a fifth-generation fighter, the Airmen have continuously made their mark, including recently completing the first overseas Guard deployment of the F-35.

Now, the latest chapter of Green Mountain Boys’ history has been written.

“I saw that they were having interviews. I was really interested in a fighter slot, and Vermont is just beautiful,” said 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, the first female F-35 pilot in the Air National Guard. “I was really excited, and I was lucky enough to get a pilot slot with them.”

Interviewing with the 134th Fighter Squadron in 2019, Flannery was part of a small group of hundreds of applicants selected to become the squadron’s newest pilots.

After being home for a week, Sept. 7, 2022, marked Flannery’s first flight as a member of the Vermont Air National Guard.

“I really wanted to be on the leading edge. I liked the focus it required and I liked the community a lot,” Flannery said about why she set out to be a fighter pilot.
“It’s exciting to get up there, go fast and be able to employ weapons, so that was one of the more appealing parts of it.”

After a successful interview and hiring board, the 30-year-old former boxing instructor from Kentucky was sent to Officer Training School to get her commission.

Flannery already had a pilot’s license, so was able to go straight to undergraduate pilot training for over a year of successful training on T-6 and T-38 aircraft. That led to Intro to Fighter Fundamentals and Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion school.

Then came the time to get into an F-35 for the first time at the Air Force’s “B-course,” which lasted nine months.

“It was awesome, the instructors were top-notch,” said Flannery. “You felt very prepared to go into a single seat for the first time. It was super fun to go up there and work through problems on your own, figure it out and just learn to be a wingman.”

Unlike the other fighters in the Air Force inventory, the F-35 has no two-seat variant for training.

“We felt really prepared, the instructors were awesome and the simulators help prepare you very well,” said Flannery. “I guess the only thing you’re experiencing for the first time is the feeling of actually being in the jet, but you’re already exposed how to work through all the problems and you have a lot of experience up there with you with your flight lead.”

Flannery said she was excited to get back to Vermont and start flying with the wing.

“Flying in the B-course was a blast, but it’s really cool to be back,” she said. “I feel very grateful they gave me this opportunity and can continue learning from everyone here.”

Being back at the wing as a new pilot entails two years of full-time, on-the-job training to keep developing her skills as a fighter pilot.

She explained that though she is mission qualified and can be deployed, the two years will be spent learning from the wing’s instructor pilots and taking on certain roles in the wing, including working in the 134th’s scheduling office.

“Right now, I just want to be the best wingman I can be,” said Flannery.

The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Flannery said she always knew she wanted to fly for the military. After considering active duty, Flannery said she learned about the opportunities in the Air National Guard. Being selected by Vermont to fly the F-35 was “icing on the cake,” she explained.

Flannery said the topic of her being the first female in the Guard to pilot an F-35 never came up throughout the three-year process of becoming the latest pilot in the 134th Fighter Squadron.

“There’s definitely been a trail blazed already and I’m really grateful to the women who have done that, but nobody has brought it up and I feel very much like an equal here,” said Flannery. “People just treat me like a wingman and it’s great as it allows me to focus more on flying.”

Being back in Vermont, Flannery is full of praise for the F-35 and said she intends to make a career in the Vermont Air National Guard.

“I’d love to be able to deploy,” she said. “Right now, I feel like I’m in a great position to be able to learn from everybody, so looking forward to flights day-to-day and soak up as much information as I can.”

Capt. Jake Dubie, one of the 134th’s instructor pilots and the first one in the wing to hit 500 flying hours in the F-35, said Flannery did great in her first flight in Vermont.

“I met Kelsey three or four years ago when she first applied to become a pilot here, sat on the board and to be able to see her go from that and be lucky enough to get to fly her first flight here in Vermont was definitely super exciting,” said Dubie, who has helped train the more than 30 full-time pilots in the squadron.

“Never had to worry about her up in the air,” he said. “She did an awesome job, so it was definitely a lot of fun.”

The goals laid out for Flannery are to be the best fighter pilot she can be and be someone who can be trusted in the air, Dubie explained.

“Everything we do here is being part of a team,” he said. “Being able to employ your aircraft and do your job in a way that supports the team and makes us the most lethal F-35 squadron in the Air Force is kind of what we’re expecting, and I know she’s going to do a great job.”

Flannery said she was excited to be part of the 134th, a squadron that she said has a strong reputation in the fighter community and a history back to World War II.

“The heritage here goes back so many decades and it’s so important that we retain that heritage,” said Flannery. “It’s great to be in the Green Mountain Boys.”