YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The best of the best were honored Thursday night during the 2004 5th Air Force Outstanding Airman of the Year ceremony at Yokota’s enlisted club.

Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan commander, announced the seven winners — both active duty and civilian, officer and enlisted — during a ceremony with the theme, “Air Power: Any Time, Any Place.”

Prior to giving the annual awards, Wright told the 25 nominees to keep their heads held high, even if they didn’t earn the top award.

We “selected the best of the best but we nominate the best of the best,” Wright said.

“Each of tonight’s nominees exemplifies the Air Force Core Values and what it means to be an airman. Their drive and commitment to service is reflected in the outstanding accomplishments that got them nominated,” Wright stated in the ceremony program. “They are examples for all of us to follow.”

According to the program, the Japanese and American civilians were selected from more than 5,500 employees; the company grade officers were selected from more than 900 of their peers; and the enlisted nominees were chosen from a pool of more than 10,000 airmen. Nominees from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and Misawa Air Base, Japan, traveled to Yokota last weekend to join their competition from Yokota’s 5th Air Force and 374th Airlift Wing. They visited Tokyo, received briefings and attended a dinner Wednesday night.

Capt. Melanie Porterfield, from 5th Air Force’s 605th Air Intelligence Squadron, said getting to know the other nominees was a great experience.

“To be honest, when I spent a few days with the other nominees, each one I spoke to, I thought ‘this person will win,’” she said during a phone interview Friday.

Porterfield, 38, said that’s why she sat still for about three seconds after hearing her name called as “Company Grade Officer of the Year.”

She said she was “thrilled and absolutely ecstatic,” to have won the award.

Porterfield said she thinks her deployment to Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, could have played a factor in why she was selected since the Air Force puts so much of an emphasis on “deployments in support of the global war on terror.”

Porterfield is a volunteer member of the Company Grade Officer’s Council at Yokota and chairs the community outreach and professional development programs. As part of the community outreach, the council will help feed homeless people in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district each month.

The award will benefit her professionally in “performance reports and career résumés,” she said.

But personally, it’s a confidence builder.

“That the leadership chose you for an award like this is humbling,” she said.

She also said she wouldn’t have won the award without her team.

“Whenever you see someone up for a promotion or award, it’s like seeing a turtle on a fencepost,” she said. “You know it didn’t get there by itself.

“I have some absolutely amazing NCOs working for me,” she said. “I can toss them a project and know they are going to take care of it with minimal supervision and come up with an innovative approach.”

Senior Airman Michael Hillier, a 24-year-old from Knoxville, Ill., agreed with Porterfield that meeting the other nominees was one of the week’s highlights.

Hillier — who won Airman of the Year — said he met a “lot of high-quality people.”

“I hope I can run into them again and have the opportunity to work with them in the future,” he said.

Hillier also said something Wright told the nominees during dinner Wednesday night hit home.

“He told us that ‘no matter what you do, you can trust the people next to you in uniform … always know they’ll be there for you,’” Hillier said.

Award winners

Airman of the Year: Senior Airman Michael H. Hillier, 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan

Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Tech. Sgt. Michael E. Harris, 18th Logistical Readiness Squadron, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Master Sgt. Rodney T. Gaither, 605th Air Support Squadron, 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan

First Sergeant of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. Dwight D. Eddings, 374th Communications Squadron, 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Company Grade Officer of the Year: Capt. Melanie M. Porterfield, 605th Air Intelligence Squadron, 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Civilian Employee of the Year, Category I: Tetsuro Hayashi, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

Civilian Employee of the Year, Category II: Tetsuaki Nihei, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Other nominees

5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan: Senior Airman Erik G. Hurley, 624th Air Control Flight; Staff Sgt. Janet Saunders, 5th Air Force; Master Sgt. Sandy V. Lofton, 20th Operational Weather Squadron.

18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa: Senior Airman Sara J. Higgins, 18th Services Squadron; Master Sgt. Charles E. Stiefken, 18th Operations Group; Senior Master Sgt. Richard J. Robinson, 18th Operations Group; Capt. Keithen A. Washington, 18th Services Squadron; Leander W. Groover, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron.

35th Fighter Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan: Tech. Sgt. Margo Y. Miller, 35th Communications Squadron; Master Sgt. Peter A. Sorensen, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron; Senior Master Sgt. Shawn D. Edwards, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron; Capt. Andrew S. Kroh, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron; Georgia B. Thompson, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron; Takeshi Ukon, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron.

374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan: Senior Airman Cory J. Anderson, 374th Medical Group; Senior Master Sgt. James S. McNeer, 374th Communications Squadron; Capt. Kelli N. Roche, 374th Logistical Readiness Squadron; Hiromi Takeshita, 374th Maintenance Squadron

— Information provided by the 5th Air Force

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