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Academy recognizes annual award winners

The winners of the 2009 Air Force Academy Awards are (left to right): Capt. Michelle Ruehl (company grade officer), Staff Sgt. Michael Clinkscales (NCO), Pamela Batzel (civilian category I), Erich Hoffmann (civilian category II), Senior Master Sgt. Roderick Schwald (first sergeant), Senior Airman Jessica Morehouse (Airman), Master Sgt. Robert Pemberton (senior NCO), Maj. Robert Bonner (Honor Guard officer), Staff Sgt. Michiyo Litynski (Honor Guard NCO), Master Sgt. Lissy Slezak (Honor Guard senior NCO) and Senior Airman Nhan Le (Honor Guard Airman). Not pictured is Keith Butala, the civilian category III winner. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

The winners of the 2009 Air Force Academy Awards are (left to right): Capt. Michelle Ruehl (company grade officer), Staff Sgt. Michael Clinkscales (NCO), Pamela Batzel (civilian category I), Erich Hoffmann (civilian category II), Senior Master Sgt. Roderick Schwald (first sergeant), Senior Airman Jessica Morehouse (Airman), Master Sgt. Robert Pemberton (senior NCO), Maj. Robert Bonner (Honor Guard officer), Staff Sgt. Michiyo Litynski (Honor Guard NCO), Master Sgt. Lissy Slezak (Honor Guard senior NCO) and Senior Airman Nhan Le (Honor Guard Airman). Not pictured is Keith Butala, the civilian category III winner. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

Retired Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr. speaks at the Air Force Academy Annual Awards Banquet March 6, 2010. General Halter was the Academy's vice superintendent from June 2005 to September 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

Retired Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr. speaks at the Air Force Academy Annual Awards Banquet March 6, 2010. General Halter was the Academy's vice superintendent from June 2005 to September 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

Attendees at the Air Force Academy Awards Dinner raise their glasses for a toast March 6, 2010. The guest speaker for this year's event at the Falcon Club was retired Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr., the Academy's vice superintendent from 2005-2006, was the guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

Attendees at the Air Force Academy Awards Dinner raise their glasses for a toast March 6, 2010. The guest speaker for this year's event at the Falcon Club was retired Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr., the Academy's vice superintendent from 2005-2006, was the guest speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rachel Boettcher)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy community packed the Falcon Club March 6 to recognize its shining stars.

Retired Maj. Gen. Irving Halter Jr., the event's guest speaker, advised the awardees and audience to cherish their time in the Air Force and told attendees to stay humble.

"Being retired reminds me of a tombstone I once read on Boot Hill in Tombstone, Ariz.," said General Halter, who was vice superintendent at the Academy from June 2005 to September 2006. "The one that I always recall says this: 'Remember, as you are, so once was I. And as I am, you soon will be. Remember me.'

"I'm here to tell you that retirement is just fine, but do not hurry towards it thinking that it will make you happier -- it absolutely will not," General Halter said. "You are living the best years of your lives -- sure, deployments are taxing, workloads are heavy and raising families is difficult under these conditions, but you are doing it for a cause that transcends a paycheck, working alongside folks who share the bond of an oath to a sacred document that is still a beacon to the world."

The general took a moment to congratulate the award nominees for their achievements.

"This is a big night, a proud night, one you have earned," he said, "and no matter who wins the final ... contest up here tonight, you are the very embodiment of our core value of excellence. It is inspiring to the rest of us just to be around you."

He tempered that praise, however, with down-to-earth counsel.

"Having said ... all those wonderful, nice things, I have another piece of advice: get over it," he said. "With high achievements come not only rewards and recognition but even higher responsibility. ... Yes, you have been recognized for your achievements, but that means you have also set the bar higher for yourselves as well as for others."

General Halter also reminded the awardees that no achievement stands on its own.

"There's an old Midwestern farmer saying that I am very fond of: 'If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, you can pretty much be sure it didn't get there by itself,'" he said. "There's a lot of turtle in all of us."

Commanders and supervisors play a role in giving award winners a chance to show what they can do and single out those individuals for recognition, while co-workers and subordinates make it possible for the winners to do their jobs, General Halter said.

"All of them had a piece in putting your little turtle butts up on that fence post," he added.
The general asked the award nominees to start identifying and training their replacements for next year's annual awards but also to take it a step further.

"Surprise us," he said. "Find someone who you know is a diamond in the rough, even though they look like coal to the rest of us. Make them your special project and get them here so that the rest of us can take notice and say, 'We never knew they had that in them.' Likely as not, a couple of you came from the same category; time to pay it back by paying it forward."

He finished with a reminder to the audience to take in and enjoy as much of their Air Force careers as possible.

"Please remember that your Air Force life is not just good, but it is great," he said. "The special events like tonight and the routine events of your service are to be sipped and savored like fine wine. You will be like me soon enough -- be in no hurry to get there."

To the award winners, he added, "Enjoy this moment and share the credit with those around you, and remember that now we expect even more, because your country needs more of what you can provide. And on behalf of all of us -- family, friends, colleagues, subordinates, all who helped get you up on that fence post and are now beaming at your success -- we want to thank you for becoming what we knew you could be. Now get out there and make us proud."

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