Ewing, Wright, Zena named Kentucky Air Guard’s Airmen of the Year for 2022

  • Published
  • By Dale Greer
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Senior Airman Xavier Ewing, Tech. Sgt. Elijah Wright and Master Sgt. Andrew Zena will be honored at a banquet here tonight as the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 2022 Airmen of the Year.

All three Airmen were selected for their outstanding leadership and commitment to excellence, said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Spaulding, military personnel management officer for Joint Forces Headquarters — Air.

Ewing, representing the Airman category, is a C-130 Hercules crew chief in the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. His duties include aircraft launches and recoveries, as well aircraft servicing, inspections and organizational-level maintenance. Ewing enlisted in the Air Force in September 2017 and has served with the Kentucky Air National Guard for more than four years.

In 2021, Ewing provided exceptional support to Iron Derby, a 300-Airman exercise for which his unit flew 15 sorties and numerous airdrop missions. He also supported a joint multinational air show and was a key player in the transfer of six fully mission capable C-130H aircraft to the Delaware Air National Guard.

Wright, representing the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a fire team leader in the 123rd Global Mobility Readiness Squadron. He is the primary security attachment to a rapidly deployable multi-career field Contingency Response Team. He joined the Air Force in March 2006, and transferred to the Kentucky Air Guard in 2014.

Wright has deployed to multiple locations worldwide in support of operations and contingencies, including Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, United Assistance, and relief missions following hurricanes Irma and Maria. In 2021, he was lauded for “best practices” as a base defense operations center controller during a Joint Task Force-Port Opening exercise. He also volunteered to deploy for Operation Allies Refuge/Allies Welcome, during which 11,000 Afghan refugees were processed for special immigrant visas; and he rescued a civilian who was stranded in a potentially life-threatening situation while hiking near Volk Field, Wisconsin.

Zena, representing the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a pararescueman in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. He joined the Air Force in 2008 where he served on active duty until 2013. He then returned to his hometown and became a member of the Kentucky Air Guard.

Zena has been mobilized multiple times to support search and rescue operations following hurricanes in the continental United States, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. He also has assisted in the instruction of the Air National Guard’s own Military Tandem Tethered Bundle courses for the last three years — currently the only tandem program in the Air Force. Additionally, Zena has participated in two Joint Combined Exchange Training Operations with Swedish Special Forces at the Swedish Subarctic Winter Warfare Training Center in Arvidsjaur, Sweden. In 2021, he directly prevented 11 parachute malfunctions during an Air National Guard exercise, potentially saving several lives, and instructed eight pararescuemen during a precision jumpmaster course.

Tonight’s banquet, to be held at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base, also will honor the unit’s 2019 and 2020 Airmen of the Year. They were not formally recognized in past years after COVID-19 mitigation measures lead to their banquets being cancelled.

The 2019 Airmen of the Year are Senior Airman Joseph Hildesheim, Staff Sgt. Marissa Morris and Master Sgt. Kevin Freese.

The 2020 Airmen of the Year are Staff Sgt. Harry Jenkins, Tech. Sgt. Jacob Blevins and Master Sgt. Duane Wariner.