Beach, Quijada, LaGrone to be honored as top Airmen of the Year

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. James W. Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The results are in, and three Airmen have been selected as the Kentucky Air National Guard's 2014 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

Senior Airman Katherine Beach, Tech. Sgt. Elmer Quijada and Senior Master Sgt. Shane LaGrone will each be recognized for excellence at a banquet held Saturday night at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

The Airmen were chosen for their dedication to duty, leadership, job performance, personal improvement and community service, according to Chief Master Sgt. Jim Smith, state command chief master sergeant. They exemplify what it means to be outstanding Airmen and uphold the highest values of the Citizen-Airman, Smith said.

Beach, selected in the Airman category, is a cardiopulmonary technician with the 123rd Medical Group. A 2011 honor graduate from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, she holds degrees from Bellarmine University and the University of Kentucky. Beach is currently assistant manager at the Shawnee branch of the Louisville Free Public Library.

In her role as a Kentucky Airman, Beach is a member of the rapid response and critical care teams; as a civilian, she provides leadership-skills training to community leaders and youth counselors; and as an individual, she maintains a high level of physical fitness and pursues several avenues of personal development.

"She is always a top performer and leads by the Core Values," said her supervisor, 1st Lt. Angela Jenkins. "She is always willing to contribute to the team."

Quijada, selected in the Non-Commissioned Officer category, is a pararescueman with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. The former active-duty troop is working toward a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership and earned the title of pararescueman team lead because of his dedication to duty, officials said. He's also the recipient of four Air Medals for meritorious achievement.

As a pararescueman, Quijada has been intimately involved with combat operations in Afghanistan, where he's trained countless American, coalition and Afghan forces; as a civilian firefighter with the Frankfort Fire Department, he employs his special operations talents in the local community and leads demonstrations with school children; and as an individual, he has balanced his role as a firefighter and special operator with his role as a husband while completing two Community College of the Air Force degrees.

"His outstanding work as a special operator and with the Frankfort Fire Department, balanced with his role as a husband, make him an outstanding Airman," said his supervisor, Master Sgt. David Wilcoxen.

LaGrone, selected in the Senior NCO category, is the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight Chief for the 123rd Civil Engineer Squadron. He has a bachelor's degree in Social and Criminal Justice from Ashford University and has earned the Bronze Star Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters.

As EOD flight chief, LaGrone has provided leadership and training for 11 EOD technicians and worked with countless federal, state, and local law enforcement agency bomb squads; as a civilian, he has mentored and volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America, Bernheim Forest and Wounded Warriors Foundation; and as an individual, he completed the EOD flight commander's course, better equipping his unit to face the challenges within the EOD community.

"In short, he is an outstanding senior NCO, and he keeps me in line," said his supervisor, Maj. Keith Smith.

The Kentucky National Guard Soldier and Airman of the Year Banquet is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Conference Center Ballroom, South C Wing, Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.