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123rd Airlift Wing to recognize top troops tonight

Staff Sgt. Raul Rodriguez of the 123rd Contingency Response Group has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Airman of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Raul Rodriguez of the 123rd Contingency Response Group has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Airman of the Year. (U.S Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Staff Sgt. Daniel Keller of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Keller of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. (U.S Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Seifert of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.

Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Seifert of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron has been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2018 Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. (U.S Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Seifert, Staff Sgt. Dan Keller and Staff Sgt. Raul Rodriguez will be honored at a banquet here tonight as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2018.

The three Airmen were chosen by members of the 123rd Airlift Wing Chiefs’ Council because they exemplify the qualities of the “Whole Airman” concept, according to State Command Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson.

“We are very proud to formally recognize these gentlemen and at the same time celebrate our folks for their accomplishments over the past year,” Dawson said. “We had great representatives from across the base, and it was a very fine line that separated these three from the rest. They displayed self-development, mentorship, hard work and success — all of the necessary things that represent the Whole Airman.”

Rodriguez, the winner in the Airman category, is a crew chief and aircraft maintainer with the 123rd Contingency Response Group. He took part in three deployments in 2017 — to Iraq, Japan and Puerto Rico — all on short notice in support of contingency-response missions. At Qayyarah West Airfield, Iraq, Rodriguez ensured the movement of 680 aircraft from the most-forward operating base in Operation Inherent Resolve, enabling 225 precision strikes that destroyed 69 defensive fighting positions and 39 vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factories. In Puerto Rico, he was instrumental in operating an intermediate staging base that delivered more than seven million pounds of food and water to victims of Hurricane Maria.

“Rodriguez exemplifies the CRG culture as a multi-skilled Airman with the highest volunteerism who is always ready for immediate, worldwide response,” said his supervisor, Master Sgt. Jason Sanderson. “From building intimate relationships with members of the Iraqi Army to saving lives in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, he shows his love for humanity in everything he does. Rodriguez is an integral part of our CRG family, and we are thrilled with his selection to now represent his extended 123rd Airlift Wing family.”

Keller, the winner of the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a combat controller in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. He was deployed for 170 days last year in support of combat missions in Afghanistan, where he fought alongside Army Special Forces and host-nation commandos. Keller conducted multi-week hold-and-clear operations against ISIS strongholds, utilizing deadly accurate firepower to decimate hostile forces, resulting in 209 enemy killed in action. His heroic actions during a mass-casualty event are credited with saving team members’ lives, earning Keller the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. He also has been nominated for a Silver Star.

“Keller was conducting a routine clearing event when he was injured when the building he was standing outside of exploded,” explained Chief Master Sgt. Aaron May of the 123rd STS. “In that moment of chaos, he was able to remain calm, work air support and call in helicopters to have the wounded transported out.

“Keller is depended on; he’s morally sound and makes the right calls,” May continued. “When we look at our future Airmen in STS, we want people like him.”

Seifert, the winner of the Senior NCO category, is operations superintendent for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. During 2017, Seifert deployed in support of U.S. Central Command operations, for which he was assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Syria Joint Targeting Cell. Seifert led blistering air-to-ground attacks in which he controlled 200 tactical sorties and directed 91 kinetic strikes yielding 93 enemy killed in action. Seifert also led the squadron's support efforts for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Jose, resulting in 41 Airmen deployed, 500 aircraft controlled and 2,000 personnel evacuated. Finally, he was responsible for reshaping flight training and developing standard guidance that brought squadron readiness to an all-time high.

“Three things come to mind when I think of him,” May said. “He has foresight, follow through, and he is always looking for solutions.

“He is technically sound, and his expertise is always sought out,” the chief continued. “Seifert is continuously educating himself through technical schools and higher education just to make himself a better leader and more knowledgeable about the job.”