21 STS Airman wins Sijan award

A Pope Airman has been awarded the 2007 Lance P. Sijan Air Force Leadership Award for distinguished leadership.

Capt. Stewart Parker, 21st Special Tactics Squadron, was named the junior officer category winner for the coveted award

Captain Parker led a team of Combat Controllers into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, reaping an impressive list of combat effects. As the critical link to a full array of airpower capabilities, Captain Parker precisely integrated fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft and fused intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with timely firepower. The results proved devastating to enemy forces.

"Captain Parker is absolutely vital to the success of the mighty 21 STS," Lt. Col. Michael Martin, 21st STS Commander, said. "His combat experience and superb leadership has been key in our preparation for our next deployment. His success on the battlefield and as a leader in garrison and deployed made him a logical choice to command a mission during our next deployment."

The Lance P. Sijan Award recognizes the accomplishments of officers and enlisted members of the Air Force who have demonstrated the highest qualities of leadership in the performance of their duties and the conduct of their lives.

The closely evaluated criteria for the award include scope of responsibility, professional leadership, leadership image and community involvement.

This is the second consecutive year a Pope Special Tactics officer has received the award in the junior officer category, as Capt. Matt Allen was the recipient in 2006.

As a flight commander, Captain Parker was in charge of 15 enlisted Combat Controllers deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

His day-to-day operations ranged from holding meetings with local leaders, to training Afghan troops, to spending days on end tracking and fighting terrorist cells.

"From controlling C-130s landing on dirt airstrips, to directing A-10 strafing runs against attacking terrorists, to storming enemy strongholds alongside joint special operations forces, 21st STS Combat Controllers brought the might of the entire Air Force to the front lines in the war on terror," Captain Parker said.

Captain Parker's flight safely controlled hundreds of airlift and strike aircraft, many of which were flown by Pope aviators.

"I've never been more proud to work with such individuals," Captain Parker said.

In addition, Captain Parker deployed separately later in the year, spending the majority of his time fighting alongside a 12-man Army Special Forces team in southern Afghanistan. The unit's mission was to capture and kill enemy fighters in their area, bolster support for the Afghan government and provide for the local populace, and they often worked with NATO and Afghan troops.

"I was responsible for mission planning, air support and rear security with the M240B machine gun mounted on the back of my Humvee," Captain Parker said.

"We were in several battles lasting up to 14 hours, in which I directed airstrikes, airborne reconnaissance & intelligence, and medevac helicopters to (remove) wounded troops."

Not all operations were about taking the fight directly at the enemy, as Captain Parker and his flight also conducted many humanitarian missions.

"We delivered four tons of humanitarian supplies, including food, shoes, and blankets to villagers in need during the harsh winter," Captain Parker said. "We helped build police checkpoints and distributed medical supplies to hundreds of Afghans suffering everything from indigestion to broken bones."

He said the most memorable event was his assistance in the opening of a new school in Afghanistan. It was the culmination of an effort that reached across the globe, as people across the U.S. donated school supplies, which Captain Parker said he and others proudly handed to 650 children attending class for the first time in their lives. His willingness to teach extended to the Afghan soldiers he worked with.

"At night, I gave informal English classes to some of my Afghan counterparts," Captain Parker said. "Truly, I was amazed at the tenacity and willingness to learn of the Afghan people."

His focus on humanitarian relief is no surprise, as he is very active in the local community at Pope. He mentored Air Force Academy, ROTC and JROTC cadets as a member of the Air Force Cadet Officer Mentor Action Program and spends a great deal of time participating in base and squadron events, which included representing Pope at the "Warriors on the Water" military appreciation bass fishing tournament in May 2007.

Colonel Martin says Captain Parker's success can be attributed to the instructors and training pipeline necessary to become a Special Tactics Officer.

One of Captain Parker's instructors, Master Sgt. Calvin Markham, is a Silver Star recipient from the initial stages of Operation Enduring Freedom and now serves as the 21st STS Chief of Current Operations.

"The same pipeline that produced Captain Parker has produced the finest non-commissioned officer corps," Colonel Martin said. "You can't replace instructors that have been on the target and executed this nation's highest priority. They have invested their knowledge and experience in (Captain Parker), which collectively has made him a great leader."