By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell
158th Fighter Wing
The 158th Fighter Wing has made history: For the first time, three female Airmen from the wing have taken top honors in the Vermont Air National Guard’s annual Airman of the Year awards.
Announced in February of 2021, the awards recognize Airmen in three different categories of Airman, noncommissioned officer and senior NCO of the year.
For 2020, the awards went to Senior Airman Sara Basiliere, Tech. Sgt. Jessica Mitchell and Master Sgt. Mary Jane Palumbo.
“Our Airmen of the year winners distinguished themselves from an amazing talent pool based on their character, capability and performance,” said Col. David Shevchik, commander of the 158th Fighter Wing.
Shevchik said the winners were determined by awards councils comprised of their peers, colleagues and fellow professionals from the wing who evaluate each nominee.
“To be selected for this award is such a great accomplishment and I’m very thankful,” said Basiliere, the Airman of the Year recipient. “This will be one of many memories that I have within my military career."
Basiliere, who is a medical liaison with the recruiting and retention team is from Fairfield, Vermont, transferred to the 158th in November of 2018 after spending three years with the Wyoming Air National Guard. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting how the Vermont Air National Guard has carried out training and essential functions, Basiliere has been the NCO in charge of COVID-19 vaccinations for Department of Defense service members.
“When I found out I was selected, it was very surreal,” said Mitchell, the NCO of the Year recipient. “I had one of those ‘pinch me I must be dreaming’ moments.”
Mitchell, from Essex, Vermont, joined the wing in December of 2011 and is NCO in charge of Commander’s Support Staff for the 158th Maintenance Group. The staff manages administrative functions for the four commanders and various chiefs of the group, ensuring that Airmen can then focus on their primary mission of aircraft maintenance.
“I feel the women in the Air Force have an opportunity to pave the way for other women who aspire to join the military,” said Mitchell. “As a woman in the military you’re setting the standard for all other young women.”
Mitchell said she has been grateful for the experience she has had in being mentored by other women who she says helped her get to where she is today.
“A huge role that we play is helping to empower each other, each and every day,” she continued.
After gaining independence in 1776, it took America another 172 years to make women a permanent part of the military, in 1948. Esther McGowin Blake was the first woman to join the “Women in the Air Force” the first minute enlistments were opened up on July 8 that year.
WAF was the means with which the Air Force brought in women. The program lasted until 1976, when women were allowed to enlist on an equal basis with men.
Palumbo said the role of women in the Air Force is very important.
“It goes way back to Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II, when these women were not allowed in combat but they get to train male pilots to be ready to go into combat,” she said.
Palumbo, originally from the island of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia, now from Georgia, Vermont, enlisted in 2008 and is the Aviation Resource Management superintendent at the 158th FW. She ensures fellow Airmen in her shop are successful at their jobs, which is to track and make sure that the pilots’ trainings are current.
On top of this, she is also part of the Special Emphasis Program Managers to bring awareness and educate wing members on the diversity within the wing. Palumbo is the Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage representative for the Vermont Air National Guard.
“We are extremely proud of them,” said Shevchik. “It demonstrates the strength and importance of diversity within our team and the integral and influential role of women in the Vermont Air National Guard.”
Command Chief Master Sgt. Brian Dusablon, the state command chief, echoed this by saying, “These three women epitomize our core values: Integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do.
“The future of the premier fighter wing is in good hands,” he added.