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Logistics award honors legacy of former 123rd Airlift Wing command chief

Senior Airman Nathan Rogers, an aerial porter for the Wisconsin Air Guard's 128th Logistics Readiness Squadron, receives the first-annual Chief Master Sergeant Tommy Downs Award for Excellence at the Logistics Readiness University in Savannah, Ga., on June 27, 2012. Also pictured are his commander, Lt. Col. Betsy Schoeller, and Janet Downs, wife to the late Chief Downs, a Kentucky Air Guardsman who was instrumental in founding the school. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck)

Senior Airman Nathan Rogers, an aerial porter for the Wisconsin Air Guard's 128th Logistics Readiness Squadron, receives the first-annual Chief Master Sergeant Tommy Downs Award for Excellence at the Logistics Readiness University in Savannah, Ga., on June 27, 2012. Also pictured are his commander, Lt. Col. Betsy Schoeller, and Janet Downs, wife to the late Chief Downs, a Kentucky Air Guardsman who was instrumental in founding the school. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck)

SAVANNAH, GA. -- The inaugural presentation of the Chief Master Sergeant Tommy Downs Award for Excellence was bestowed on the top graduate of the 2012 Logistics Readiness University during a ceremony here June 27.

The award, presented to Senior Airman Nathan Rogers of the Wisconsin Air Guard, is named in honor of former 123rd Airlift Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Downs, who passed away in 2009 due to complications from pancreatitis after more than three decades of service in the Kentucky Air National Guard.

Downs was instrumental in establishing the school in 2004, according to Chief Master Sgt. Brian Pritt, superintendent of aerial port operations for the West Virginia Air Guard's 130th Airlift Wing.

"If it weren't for Tommy, we wouldn't have any thought process in starting this whole training program, which has turned into something very good for the entire aerial port community and has now led into the entire logistics readiness squadron community," Pritt said.

Downs wife, Janet, and his daughters Whitney and Abby, came to Savannah to present the award to Rogers, a stand-out aerial port specialist from the 128th Air Refueling Wing.
"The way (Rogers) helps his squadron and takes care of his troops as a senior airman really impressed me the most," Pritt said. "His giving attitude, staying late, doing what's asked and always being there to get the job done -- honestly I felt Tommy's presence when we chose (him for) this award."

Downs, who also served as superintendent of the Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Aerial Port Squadron, saw the need in the early 2000s for a cost-effective national training program to provide mission-critical skills to Air National Guard aerial porters, Pritt said. At the time, training through normal active-duty Air Force channels was either unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

Located at the Savannah Combat Readiness Training Center, the logistics school was originally called Aerial Port University. When the National Guard Bureau directed the merger of all Air National Guard aerial port squadrons into existing logistics readiness units, the decision was made to expand the curriculum of Aerial Port University and allow all logistics career fields to participate.

"The downfall of the aerial port squadrons was very hard for us to take, but knowing Tommy, the bottom line was that we needed to do what is best for the Airmen that work for us," Pritt said.

"His heart and soul was aerial port. I know he would want this to continue, even when it became Logistics Readiness University. He would still want us to mentor those young men and women and educate them on how to do the job, and how to do it right."

In its first year of operations, 189 students took classes at the school. This year, 824 students from across the Air Guard completed a four-week curriculum covering such topics as hazardous material inspection and preparation, vehicle operations, and inventory and equipment management.

That training has been provided at a huge cost savings to the Air Force, Pritt said -- he estimates more than $800,000 in 2012 alone. And over the school's nine-year history, the program has saved millions of taxpayer dollars while providing world-class logistics training to thousands of Air National Guardsmen.

The Kentucky Air National Guard stays heavily involved in the university.

Tech. Sgt. Charles Wilding, an air transportation specialist for the 123rd Contingency Response Group, has been both a student and a staff member in seven of the past nine years.

"The main thing is to make sure, regardless of your rank -- a slick-sleeve Airman, a chief master sergeant or a lieutenant colonel -- that we take care of the people down here," Wilding said.

Five other members of the Kentucky Air Guard also have served as staff. 2nd Lt. Matthew Skeens, 123rd logistics readiness officer, served as university commander for two weeks. Master Sgt. Ray Graves, ramp supervisor for the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, served as administrative services non-commissioned officer in charge. Tech. Sgt. Darrell Roof, a special handling specialist for the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, served as facilities assistant. Master Sgt. Joshua Younce, aerial port section NCOIC for the 123rd CRG, served as acting first sergeant. And Staff Sgt. Brian Leech, an aerial porter for the 123rd CRG, served as facilities assistant and a joint inspection instructor.

"I've never met another person that cared more about his career field, more about his people and to assist them in any way possible, than Tommy Downs," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Stines, superintendent of the North Carolina Air Guard's 145th Logistics Readiness Squadron.