Utah recognizes and celebrates Service Members of the Year

In Events, News by Taylor Ricks


SALT LAKE CITY, UT — On Friday, May 17, 2024, Governor Spencer Cox, along with the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs, hosted the fourth annual State of Utah Service Member of the Year Awards. This event aims to honor the exceptional performers from each major military branch in the state, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Space Force, encompassing active duty, guard, and reserve organizations.

Utah is home to nearly 15,000 military personnel serving in various capacities, including active duty, Reserves, and the National Guard. These dedicated service members, along with their families, contribute immensely to the strength and vitality of our state. Their service, example and sacrifices are invaluable to our nation, state, and local communities. In addition to these military personnel, over 15,000 civilian employees and countless community members provide crucial support, ensuring the success of vital missions within Utah and around the world. 

Photos from the Governor's Office can be viewed HERE.
Photos from the National Guard can be viewed HERE

The 2024 State of Utah Service Member of the Year Award recipients:

Kevin Sullivan - Defense Community Champion
Kevin Sullivan has been a champion of the military and defense community in Utah for many years. Mr. Sullivan has been a long standing member of the Utah Defense Alliance and the Top of Utah Military Affairs Committee, and is the current chairman of the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah which oversees the operations of the Hill Aerospace Museum. He will compete in the Association of the Defense Communities’ Defense Community Champion of the Year. 

Tamara Holland - Military Spouse of the Year
Tamara Holland is the spouse of Col. Jeffery Holland, 75th Air Base Wing and Installation Commander at Hill Air Force Base. Ms. Holland is being recognized for her outstanding efforts in supporting airmen and their families. She created the Team Hill Installation Spouses Group which serves as a sounding board for services provided to base’s children by the surrounding school districts. She has doubled the number of attendees to the Five and Thrive program and has facilitated many meetings between the Exceptional Family Member Member program, local school districts, and service providers, enhancing the communication and improving relationships. Sadly, Ms. Holland passed away early this year which has left a void in the lives of Hill’s airmen, their families, and the community leaders that support Hill Air Force Base. 

Taylor Brown, 419th Fighter Wing - Civilian of the Year Category I
Taylor Brown is an essential financial and systems administrator at the 419th Fighter Wing, noted for her precise handling of travel and funding systems. She resolved over $3.6 million in pay issues by addressing 1,600 errors in Undelivered Orders Outstanding (UOO). Ms. Brown meticulously reviews orders to ensure fiscal compliance and accuracy. Her leadership was crucial in transitioning to the Defense Travel System (DTS), developing training materials, and overseeing system access. Her work significantly boosts the unit’s operational efficiency and financial management.

Matthew Starkey, Ogden Air Logistics Complex - Civilian of the Year Category II
Matthew Starkey is a prominent leader in aerospace maintenance, known for his leadership in the F-35 Lightning Prime III project where he increased aircraft availability by 30%. He also reduced operational touch-time by 24% in the F-16 service-life extension program. Mr. Starkey developed the Critical Path Summary tool, significantly enhancing manpower forecasting for the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group and facilitating major cost savings. His work on refining the Hazardous Material Distribution Service Center database streamlined inventory management, saving substantial labor hours and costs. Mr. Starkey's strategic and innovative approaches consistently enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Jaiil Smith, 75th Air Base Wing - Enlisted Member of The Year
Senior Airman Jaiil Smith has demonstrated outstanding leadership across multiple Department of Defense initiatives. He coordinated five key NATO aircraft maintenance inspections, enabling the strategic transfer of four F-16s to Spangdahlem AFB. As part of the DoD's $12B Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, SrA Smith managed a response to a critical chemical leak, maintaining crucial operations. His proactive measures prevented a $1.2M penalty during a NATO exercise and ensured the readiness of the AF's first combat-ready F-35 wing for presidential security. His efforts in safety and operational protocols boosted deployment readiness and workplace safety. Additionally, his community service, recognized by the national Gold-level President’s Volunteer Service Award, underscores his dedication to mentoring and cultural awareness in the Air Force.

Thomas P. Stewart, 75th Air Base Wing - Non-Commissioned Officer of The Year
Technical Sergeant Thomas P. Stewart, nominated as the USO's Service Member of the Year by AFMC, has notably improved aircraft safety and operational readiness. He resolved a crucial F-35 hot brake issue, protecting a $144 billion fleet, and trained 130 NATO members in airframe response, enhancing international defense. His leadership led to the DoD's '23 Safety Program of the Year and the creation of AFMC's first Confined Space train-the-trainer program. He also developed software to improve F-35 emergency shutdown capabilities. Beyond technical achievements, Stewart has led Agile Combat Employment exercises and served effectively as Additional Duty First Sergeant and Booster Club President, significantly boosting his unit's profile and success.

Kenneth Church, Utah Air National Guard - Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of The Year
Master Sergeant Kenneth Church has significantly impacted emergency management within the Air National Guard. As the Duration NCOIC, he led four joint CBRN training events, enhancing readiness by certifying 47 Airmen and Marines in crucial tasks. His initiatives include rewriting Kauai's Emergency Operations Plan, yielding substantial cost savings and improved disaster response. He also created the Wing’s first Electromagnetic Pulse Checklist, aligning with national defense standards and protecting essential resources. His work led to his flight winning the Colonel Frederick J. Riemer Award for 2023. MSgt Church’s dedication extends to community outreach and professional development, bolstering readiness and resilience through educational programs and certifications.

Phillip Bartell, Marine Corps Reserves - First Sergeant of The Year
First Sergeant Phillip Bartell excels in his leadership role within the Marines, managing logistical challenges and advocating for his troops. He successfully transitioned training facilities from Fort Douglas to Camp Williams, enhancing operational readiness. Bartell coordinated over 91 military funeral honors and led a significant repatriation ceremony, highlighting his meticulous planning and respect for veterans. He also spearheaded Utah County's Toys For Tots campaign, distributing nearly 10,000 toys to over 4,000 children. Additionally, Bartell hosted the successful Fox Company's Marine Corps Birthday Ball and maintains exemplary physical fitness, achieving top scores in fitness tests and competing in ultramarathons. His ongoing pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Project Management and active involvement in professional military education underscore his commitment to continuous growth.

Joshua P. Stewart, Utah Army National Guard - Warrant Officer of the Year
Warrant Officer Joshua P. Stewart has demonstrated exemplary service as the Secretary for the USA Warrant Officer Association’s Beehive Chapter. His expertise in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) led to his representation of the 300th MI BDE (LING) at an Army-wide SIGINT Forum. Stewart's strategic temporary duty in Korea helped align operations between the 501st and 300th MI BDEs, establishing a vital partnership. His dedication to enhancing unit readiness is evident in his leadership of SIGINT-specific training, significantly boosting mission effectiveness. Additionally, Stewart excelled academically at the Warrant Officer Basic Course and achieved a superior score in Chinese-Mandarin on the Defense Language Proficiency Test, reflecting his commitment to both personal and professional development.

Jacob B. Dickson, Minuteman III Directorate - Company Grade Officer of the Year
First Lieutenant Jacob B. Dickson is a dedicated professional who has made significant contributions to missile defense and community engagement through his work on the Minuteman III Directorate. He developed a comprehensive missile model with over 3000 specifications, enhancing discrepancy resolution for the MMIII fleet, and led assessments of three MMIII flight tests crucial for the STRAT/J5 plan. He also streamlined launch preparations for two $8M Operational Test Launches, updated fault analysis tracking, and coordinated a missile accuracy working group, supporting STRATCOM war plans. Beyond his technical achievements, Jacob revitalized a booster club, raised $39k for morale events, and volunteered extensively, mentoring students and coaching STEM skills at Hill Field Elementary. His selflessness and dedication have made him a beacon in his community.

Toby Adamson, Utah Army National Guard - Field Grade Officer of The Year 
Lieutenant Colonel Toby Adamson led the Utah Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion to remarkable success, transforming it into one of the nation's top five producers among medium states. Through strategic data utilization, leadership role establishment, and innovative outreach efforts, he surpassed recruitment goals and achieved historic milestones, including Utah's End Strength Objective for the first time. Adamson's visionary leadership expanded demographic reach, fostered community integration, and propelled the battalion to top national rankings in recruitment and retention categories. 

Matthew R. Larsen, Marine Corps Recruiting Station - Recruiter of the Year
Staff Sergeant Matthew R. Larsen has distinguished himself as a Marine recruiter. Starting as a production recruiter at RSS West Salt Lake, he consistently exceeded recruitment targets, contracting 8 poolees and sending 15 to recruit training, with one earning special recognition. Promoted to SNCOIC, Larsen led his team to contract 39 poolees and send 56 to training, with 6 receiving special recognition. His proactive community engagement led to RSS West Salt Lake earning top honors. Despite his demanding role, Larsen mentored over 70 recruits while pursuing a Bachelor's Degree and balancing family responsibilities, all while maintaining top physical fitness scores.

Xavier M. Rennells, 388th Fighter Wing - Honor Guard Member of the Year
Senior Airman Xavier M. Rennells excelled as the Hill AFB Flight Leader, guiding 30 peers through 250 congressionally mandated funerals across a tri-state area. As lead flight trainer, he mastered over 55 drill movements and certified 16 ceremonial guardsmen. Appointed Honor Guard Inventory Supply lead, he managed $100K+ in assets and ensured the success of over 500 required details. Rennells refurbished 38 drill rifles, securing 315 successful volleys during funeral honors. Excelling as Pallbearer Team NCOIC, he honored fallen Active Duty members for distinguished visitors and led physical training efforts, installing an on-site gym for 24-7 access. As an Honor Guard Ambassador, he educated junior enlisted on the program, enhancing recruitment efforts, while as Alpha Flight team lead, he managed logistics for 300 funerals and ceremonies.

Waylon Giese, Wasatch High School JROTC - JROTC / CAP Member of the Year
Waylon Giese, a 4th-year senior at Wasatch High School, is the top cadet and current Cadet Group Commander. He has earned numerous accolades, including the Air Force Association Award and the Order of the Daedalians award for 2023-2024. Academically, he excels with a 3.866 GPA and is an AP Scholar with Distinction. Waylon has earned an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy. As the Cyber Patriot Commander, he led his team to top state and national rankings. He is also a dedicated athlete on the varsity swim and water polo teams and an accomplished musician in various school bands. Committed to service, Waylon has completed 69 hours of community service and is active in Math-letes and the National Honor Society. His leadership and dedication make him an exemplary student and cadet.

Nicholas Phillips, Southern Utah University - ROTC Cadet of the Year
Nicholas Phillips ranked in the top 15% nationwide and earned recognition as a Distinguished Military Graduate in 2023. He received the George C. Marshall Award and commendations from top military commanders. As cadet company commander at Southern Utah University ROTC, he demonstrated exceptional leadership while maintaining a 3.85 GPA and engaging in campus organizations. Phillips significantly improved the ROTC program's fitness standards and was selected for Infantry in the active duty component, reflecting his outstanding contributions and commitment to excellence.