NEW ORLEANS – November is recognized as Native American Heritage Month, a time to acknowledge the rich and diverse cultures and histories of Native Americans.

Master Sgt. Rasia Delin, originally from Dulac, Louisiana, is a member of the Houma Indian Tribe, one of the original inhabitant tribes of the area. She is currently assigned to Joint Force Headquarters, Louisiana Air National Guard (LAANG), as a personnel craftsman. Delin said she appreciates Native American Heritage Month because it shows the U.S. is making in being inclusive and allowing everyone to learn about the country’s diverse cultures.

Delin said she dreamed of serving in the Air Force since she was a little girl.

“I learned about the Reserve Component and that I can have the best of both worlds by staying in my hometown and be in the military at the same time,” said Delin. “Serving in the Guard has allotted me so many good experiences and given me a great career.”

Delin said she worked in retail before she enlisted and that her life has drastically changed since she joined the LANG, allowing herself to grow in many ways, both personally and professionally. She likened her military service to her tribal heritage and noted that both felt like being a part of a family and team to her.

“She performs at a high standard which in turn motivates those around her,” said Maj. Latasha Goines, a personnel officer for the LAANG. “I would definitely have her as a first pick on my team.”

Delin has been a standout performer throughout her career which she proved in 2009 by being recognized as the Airman of the Year.

“My favorite moment since joining the Louisiana National Guard was being granted a flight in an F-15 after I won Airman of the Year,” said Delin.

Currently, Delin is enrolled at Upper Iowa University, pursuing a degree in business administration, using the education benefits she earned for serving. She said that having tuition assistance available made going back to school an easy decision for her.

Over her 20 years of service, Delin has deployed overseas and participated in several state emergency response missions. Most recently, she was on the accountability team that kept track of every Airman who assisted with response efforts after Hurricane Ida.

Delin said she would recommend the National Guard to anyone interested in enlisting in the military. “There are great opportunities, education benefits, and encouragement from others to continue improving yourself.”

SAN DIEGO – The first weekend of any given month for a National Guard Soldier usually means reporting to your armory and spending the next 48 hours on duty.

For U.S. Army Sgt. Sean Arroyo, with the California Army National Guard’s 315th Vertical Engineer Company based in Moreno Valley, November’s drill was anything but that.

Instead of donning his OCPs, Arroyo packed his civilian suitcase and jumped on a flight to Washington D.C. for an extraordinary mission: accompany his grandfather, retired Army Spc. Bob Martinez, a Vietnam veteran, and 94 other vets on an Honor Flight from San Diego to the nation’s capital. The Honor Flight San Diego chapter paid for all of the expenses to honor the veterans.

“It’s just an emotional experience,” said Arroyo of being his grandfather’s “Guardian” for the flight. “Honestly, to see all these vets that come back and to hear their stories, they suffered, they went through a lot worse than what we went through and look how strong they are now,” he said.

Arroyo is exactly right. These men were not given the hero’s welcome that accompanies modern-day Soldiers when they return from their deployment overseas. Instead, they were spit on, frowned upon and basically shunned by the mainstream due to the unpopular conflict.

This weekend changed all of that as all the Vietnam Vets – all 95 onboard were a Bronze Star with Valor, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star and Air Medal recipients – were given a welcome home like no other. Salutes, cheers, banners, crowds cheering, marching bands and current service members shaking their hands wherever they went.

“It really makes me feel good that people now actually acknowledge us for what we did when we did it,” said Martinez.

It was also a time for him to reconnect with other veterans who were never given a chance to talk about what they went through collectively and not to have any fears of adverse reactions from a chapter of American history that many would like to forget.

“To be able to share my story with them, and them sharing with me. I have met a few veterans who had a similar situation to me, other men with aviation roots, and they were in helicopters and fixed wings,” he said.

Martinez was a crew chief on the Caribou cargo/troop-carrying aircraft. He was awarded the Air Medal for flying for more than 100 hours in combat, delivering supplies and moving troops across the battlefield.

“I am proud of what I did, very proud to have served,” said Martinez, “It was a job. I really didn’t think that much about it, just out there to do what we had to do,” he said.

Also, onboard the flight was retired Command Sgt. Major Michael Syzdek, a Purple Heart recipient, served in the California Army National Guard for decades after his active-duty tour to Vietnam.

“To meet other veterans from different military occupational skills and did different things over there, to be able to share this wonderful experience,” he said, “it’s been just amazing.”

Syzdek served in several senior non-commissioned officer positions in the Cal Guard, including the 3-185th Armor Battalion, 4-160th Infantry Battalion, and the 1-18th Cavalry Regiment.

In Vietnam, Syzdek served as an infantry Soldier in the 173rd Airborne Brigade as an M-60 gunner and spent 12 months in combat.

While in D.C., the Vietnam Vets could visit all of the landmarks and monuments, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force and Marine memorials, and the World War II and Korean War Memorials.

“You know, I have never been to D.C., and seeing these monuments is breathtaking. To see the size and scope and to see Arlington and to see how well it is maintained with the rolling green hills and tombstones, the trees changing color. It just makes me 100 percent convinced that the sacrifice everybody in every war has made in the United States has been worth it,” said Syzdek.

The most moving observation, however, was when the veterans visited the landmark representing the conflict they were involved with, the Vietnam War Memorial. Many took the time to etch on a special piece of paper the names of buddies who never returned home.

“It’s the only thing that you get to hold on to,” said the retired Command Sgt. Major. “It was worth it to go through all the misery and sacrifice you went through,” he said.

The veterans and their guardians returned to California the next day as they were greeted by hundreds at the San Diego International Airport, perhaps the biggest and loudest event at the end of this historic journey, all with smiling faces and a warm hug and hand-shake, with one simple message from the heart: welcome home!

“Just to see all these people who are not veterans, thousands of people with their kids, it made me feel real good to see that,” said Syzdek.

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. – Just days before deploying, an Airman flew into action after witnessing a three-car collision on his way home from work.

Staff Sgt. Reese Bassett, an air transportation member with the 157th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in March 2021. He saw the accident in Greenland, pulled over and ran to the scene.

“The door was smashed the engine was smoking,” Bassett said. “I ripped open the door. As soon as I made sure the passenger was ok, I called the police immediately.”

Another driver stopped to assist and stayed with the injured passenger while Bassett helped the other drivers.

“I was trying to calm everyone down and make sure everyone was alright,” he said. “I think the training I’ve had in the Air Force has taught me how to react quickly and calmly.”

A few months later, thousands of miles away, Bassett was focused on another mission at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. His team broke the air transportation career field, or 2T2, movement record. The Airmen loaded over 48 missions in 24 hours, extracting more than a million tons of cargo and vital military assets.

“The amount he was able to accomplish in Kabul was extraordinary because it’s a faster pace and a heavier workload with less people,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeremy Mercier, the Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent. “What makes it even more incredible is he did all of this while volunteering to provide airfield security. He was there to be a 2T2, and on the side, he was guarding the base.”

Bassett worked seven days a week his entire deployment. From Bagram, he went to Qatar, then volunteered for Operation Allies Refuge, helping evacuate refugees and cargo out of Kabul.

“All of these experiences have made him a better leader and a better mentor,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Norton, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 157th Air Terminal Function and Bassett’s supervisor. “There are a lot of things we can do in our career field to go outside the scope of our daily jobs. He has used his experiences to train other members and helped them understand why it’s important to be ready to go out on the road.”

At the Air Transportation Advisory Group Symposium, Bassett was awarded the 2021 Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Downs Award for his mentorship and commitment to the 2T2 career field.

“Chief Tommy Downs was one of the first 2T2 chiefs to push concerns up to the Air National Guard,” said Mercier. “He loved the career field and was a true port dog, mentoring and working to get us to a place where we were heard.

“Not only is Bassett a natural leader, he inspires people to hold themselves in a very professional manner,” Mercier said. “He has had a huge impact on the career field throughout the year and has carried on the legacy of Chief Downs. He’s a well-rounded Airman, and one anyone would want to have in their squadron.”

Basset said he learned numerous lessons about working with new aircraft and new people. He said trying new things takes courage but having a team makes anything possible.

“You have to be adaptable and understand that the only real constant is change,” he said. “Everyone is embracing it together, and they’re there for each other. That’s what makes it work. Afghanistan was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I gained a lot from it that I can share with some of the younger Airmen here.

“It really goes to show that you don’t know what to expect when you deploy,” he added. “Or even at home when you’re driving down the road.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, a Medal of Honor recipient, returned to his home state to share his story with fellow Oklahomans.

“Oklahoma is where I’m from; it’s where I grew up,” Plumlee said. “It’s always going to be special because it’s a part of my childhood and becoming a young man.”

Born in Clinton and raised on his family’s cattle ranch in Western Oklahoma, Plumlee enlisted in the Oklahoma Army National Guard at 17 years old as a rocket artilleryman with the 45th Field Artillery Brigade.

After graduating high school, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps and served eight years in Special Operation roles. In 2009, Plumlee joined the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Plumlee was presented with the Medal of Honor on Dec. 16 for his actions while responding to an attack by insurgents on Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2013.

“I always tell people we don’t have a unit; we have a Special Forces Group family,” Plumlee said. “There’s not one person that’s carrying that unit. Everybody is doing their part in making it perfect. And it’s always kind of awkward for me to be kind of singled out as this success when I know that everybody in my unit was just as good as I was.”

Having served 24 years in the U.S. military, Plumlee says it is this camaraderie that allows him to be able to accomplish his job and succeed.

“The Army is a special community,” Plumlee said. “You have a full spectrum of personalities and backgrounds and styles of thinking, and I think that is the difference between success and failure. I’ve seen it many times, you have a unique problem and you have some farm kids like, ‘This is not a problem. I know exactly how to fix this.’ I’ve seen that almost continuously throughout my career. I know that the diversity of backgrounds, population of Soldiers is more often than not the key to why the Army would be successful.”

As a part of his Medal of Honor tour, Plumlee engaged with fellow military members, media and everyday Oklahomans. He attended meetings and lunches with government officials and civic leaders, spoke to Soldiers in various stages of training at Fort Sill and to Junior Reserve Officer Training and other students from across the state.

Plumlee, a former student-athlete, attended football games at his alma mater Merritt Public High School and Oklahoma State University.

Plumlee told the young people he spoke with that it is extremely important to be a positive mentor and said he has developed his own leadership style more from bad leadership than good leadership.

“I have had some very influential, positive leaders that I try to emulate. But the bad leadership that I’ve received, that stuff sticks in my mind,” Plumlee said, adding that he uses the bad examples as reminders to never treat those under him poorly.

According to Plumlee, constantly learning and adapting is one of the most important skills within the military.

“If you come in with a fixed style of thinking and a method of engagement, that’s not how the world works,” Plumlee said. “Being adaptable and able to take the cues the real world is giving you and adjusting your plans to those cues are super important life skills. Because reality doesn’t care that you had this great plan this morning.”

Plumlee said one of the most important roles the National Guard plays is bridging the gap between the military and civilian worlds.

“The National Guard is a good face of what the U.S. military is in the community,” Plumlee said.

Having accomplished the unimaginable throughout his military career, Plumlee urges younger Soldiers to embrace the changes they will face throughout their careers.

“Don’t be afraid to come out and chase down something spectacular and go after it,” Plumlee said. “The military literally is just nothing but evolving opportunities, and if you don’t take them, that’s your loss.”

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Bigham family has served with the 139th Airlift Wing since 1953, when Jim Bigham joined the unit with his twin brother, Mort. Jim’s son would eventually join the unit and attain the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force.

His name is Chief Master Sgt. John Bigham, an aircraft manager assigned to the 139th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Early in his career, John Bigham deployed with his father for Operation Desert Shield. More than two decades later, he would deploy with his own son, now Capt. Riley Coats, who is serving as the wing’s plans officer.

All four of John Bighim’s adult children serve in the 139th Airlift Wing.

The first to join was Coats, who enlisted as a loadmaster and later received his commission. Staff Sgt. Braden Bigham joined next and works in aircrew resource management. Capt. Justin Bigham was the third to join and works for the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center. Tech. Sgt. Kacie McCullough, the last to join, works in the 139th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“I cannot express how proud I am to have served with my family members,” said John Bigham. “The 139th has been such a huge part of my life and my family’s life. It has taken me places both good and bad that most people never get the opportunity to see. It has shown me how an organization cares about one another. I pray that my kids have a career that has been as rewarding as mine.“

John Bigham is retiring at the end of the year with 36 years of service.

“None of this would have been possible without the loving support of my wife, Kelly, who has supported me throughout my career. I have been very lucky and blessed,” he said.

Many other members of John Bigham’s family also served at the 139th. His stepmother, retired Senior Master Sgt. Rosalie Bigham; his stepfather, retired Master Sgt. Norbert “Bun” Bunkowski; his stepbrother, retired Maj. Steve Bunkowski; and his cousin Tech. Sgt. Greg Bigham.

LANSING, Mich. – Since joining the Michigan Army National Guard, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thais Taylor has strongly advocated equal opportunity.

As the State Equal Employment Manager (SEEM) from 2015-2020, Taylor promoted the civil and human rights of Michigan National Guard Soldiers, Airmen, civilians and community members, earning recognition from the NAACP.

“Chief Taylor improved equal and fair treatment of civilians and service members through multiple cultural programs,” said Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “She recognized and supported our diverse members across race, color, gender, religion, age, disability, national origin and their contributions to our American democracy, its history and culture.”

For her efforts Taylor received the NAACP Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award, which salutes those who promote equality, civil and human rights, equal opportunity, human relations and or public service in the military.

“Chief Taylor worked closely with the Michigan adjutant general and the human resources office in helping eliminate barriers in the workplace,” said Lt. Col. Frank Laurence, the MIARNG equal opportunity manager.

“Her work to develop protocol in support of women’s breastfeeding and lactation areas at all MING work sites resulted in enhancing policies to advance the progress of a mother’s privacy and childcare, which benefits the Michigan National Guard by returning the service member to duty more quickly,” he said.

Michigan National Guard leaders entrusted Taylor to improve senior noncommissioned and commissioned officers’ leadership and mentorship.

Laurence said Taylor quickly implemented the Leadership Challenge Program I & II at Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek.

By ensuring equal treatment and employment opportunities throughout the Michigan National Guard, she enhanced unit cohesiveness, readiness, and mission success.

“It was an honor to ensure there was fair treatment for all, no matter their rank or position,” said Taylor. “Earning this award only solidifies the investment we have of Michigan National Guard members as we continue to eliminate unlawful discrimination.”

Taylor continues improving opportunities for all service members as the warrant officer strength manager. She identifies accomplished young men and women to recruit as warrant officers, the technical experts in their career field who advise senior leaders and commanders.

“This work makes the Michigan National Guard more competent, inclusive, and representative of the communities it serves,” she said.

Subcategories