MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In an effort to recognize more Misawa airmen for exceptional work and to create a more equitable rewards program, Misawa’s Top Three Organization has devised a new, additional honor: a wing-level award for individuals and teams.

The first Mentorship, Initiative, Leadership and Excellence awards will be handed out at Misawa’s quarterly awards ceremony in January to one enlisted airmen and one team of up to 12 people. Each award — an encased Japanese-style bow, arrow and sword set with an engraved placard — is worth about $50, said Senior Master Sgt. Ron Brown, MILE director and chief of plans and programs for the 35th Fighter Wing.

“We are trying to find the person and persons that had the most significant contribution to this wing’s mission for the quarter,” Brown said. “We will be giving up to 13 awards each quarter.”

The MILE program evolved in response to feedback from enlisted members who said they were dissatisfied with the wing’s recognition program, Brown said.

In a recent Air Force climate assessment survey, the question was, said Brown, paraphrasing: “Do we have a fair recognition system and are the right people being recognized?”

About 63 percent of E-1 to E-4 airmen said they were satisfied, Brown said. But more than 60 percent of staff and technical sergeants, and 50 percent of noncommissioned officers, said, “No, you’re not recognizing the right people.”

His theory for the discrepancy: Awards and recognition are more significant to higher ranks.

“When you’re going up for senior noncommissioned officer, and records are being evaluated, they’re looking for one thing — an award,” Brown said.

Wing awards now are given out quarterly to an airman, a noncommissioned officer, a senior noncommissioned officer, a company grade officer, a U.S. civilian and a Japanese civilian. Annual awards are given in the same categories, plus one for honor guard member of the year and first sergeant of the year. Those awards will continue, but people cannot be nominated for both a MILE and a quarterly award, Brown noted.

Tech. Sgt. Charles Acron, noncommissioned officer in charge of Misawa’s First Term Airmen’s Center, believes the current awards system is fair but good people still go unnoticed.

A lot of people work behind the scenes to accomplish the wing’s mission, Acron said.

“We’re not physically or mentally getting recognized, I feel,” he said.

Added Airman 1st Class Tracey Craine: “I know a lot of people get passed over because their supervisor has 10 or 15 airmen and doesn’t have the time” to fill out the quarterly award nomination form.

To take the guesswork out of how to improve the current system, three subcommittees from Misawa’s Top Three, Focus 5/6 and First Four organizations — representing all enlisted ranks — were created to address the issue.

“We went to these folks and asked them, ‘What exactly would you want to see’” in a recognition program, Brown said.

Their concerns with the current awards program included:

n Supervisors often lack time to complete the lengthy, too-complicated nomination packet for a deserving airman.

n No way exists to validate claimed accomplishments. Very few members of the quarterly awards board challenge what’s stated in an airman’s nomination packet.

n Some of the best airmen never are recognized because they don’t fit the “whole-person” concept; quarterly-award winners must be well-rounded and show contributions to the mission, the community and efforts to better oneself through further education or other means.

Another problem: The military encourages teamwork but “We have little to nothing that recognizes teamwork,” Brown said. “Airmen think, ‘We’re all getting the mission done, but you’re picking one person off the team and that’s the guy who gets a medal.’”

“To sum it up, we have an invalid system of recognition,” Brown said. “The committees’ opinions are suggesting that we’re not measuring what we’re intending to measure.”

Misawa’s Top Three Organization — master sergeants, senior master sergeants and chief master sergeants — devised the MILE award based on the committees’ comments and suggestions.

The MILE nomination process is much simpler: A supervisor merely e-mails the MILE director explaining why an airman deserves recognition. Suppose, Brown said, “There’s one item that this airmen did this quarter that just blew everyone away.” Even if that airman lacked time to go to school or volunteer, he or she could be nominated for that one act.

A more thorough validation process also exists: A five-person team from Misawa’s Top Three Organization will interview each individual and team finalist.

Brown said the Top Three would like to see the Air Force adopt the award itself or the concept.

“Everyone,” he said, “has been asking for simplicity: ‘Why does it have to be so difficult to recognize my people?’”

The new MILE award

¶Who’s eligible:

For individual award: Air Force enlisted members, E-1 through E-6.

For team award: Air Force military or civilian members, maximum of 12 per team.

¶Team finalists for first MILE awards to be handed out in January:

Fuel tank building team.

Minimum airfield operating strip team.

35th Communication Squadron’s command and control team.

¶Five individual finalists to be announced.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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