Airmen receive Sijan Award in Pentagon ceremony

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The Air Force's chief of staff honored the service's four Capt. Lance P. Sijan Award recipients in a ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes Nov. 18.

The Sijan Award annually recognizes Airmen who demonstrate outstanding leadership abilities, and this year's recipients are Maj. James Hughes Jr. from Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.; Capt. Thomas Eckel of Eglin AFB, Fla.; Chief Master Sgt. Michael Bobbitt from Yokota Air Base, Japan; and Tech. Sgt. Scott Woodring of Robins AFB, Ga.

"We are here to celebrate the legacy of Lance P. Sijan, an epic name, a legendary figure, and a veritable giant on the distinguished roll call of Air Force heroes," Gen. Norton Schwartz said. "And, to recognize four well-deserving individuals who have demonstrated the highest qualities of leadership, and exemplify our core values of integrity, service and excellence, just as Captain Sijan did in the most extraordinary way."

Honored guests to the ceremony were Jane Sijan and Janine Sijan Rozina, mother and sister of the late-Captain Sijan, respectively. Their presence was moving to the honorees.

"I found out this morning the Sijans were coming and has made this event even more exciting," Sergeant Woodring said.

Chief Bobbitt said their attendance made the occasion even more special and pledged, "I'll do my best to live up to the example Captain Sijan set for us all."

Though the award recognizes four Airmen, the honorees said earning the Sijan award wasn't an individual effort.

"This award isn't about me," Major Hughes said. "It's about the entire team of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron (from Pope AFB, N.C.). I was just privileged to be a part of the organization and team. I stand here and represent them and the rest of the special tactics community."

The major said he was "honored to be associated" with Captain Sijan.

"It's not an individual accomplishment but a team effort," agreed Captain Eckel. "The Airmen underneath me and the civil engineer community, as well as the (explosive ordnance disposal) community, are earning this as well. And it's an honor to be here today."

The Airmen recognized the importance of family in their success, acknowledging their families for their years of support and sacrifices during their careers.

Sergeant Woodring said family support was also important for him.

"Without the family a lot of this doesn't happen for us," Sergeant Woodring explained. He noted support from his family "reaches pretty deep."

General Schwartz echoed the support families play in the success of the Air Force.

"As you've seen here, what we do is a team sport," the general said. "The family members contribute to the success of the military member in so many different ways, so we honor their service, too."

Major Hughes is currently a student at the National Defense Intelligence College pursuing a master's degree in strategic intelligence. The Sijan Award recognizes his role as director of operations at the 24th STS from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008.

The major led a unit spending more than 16,000 man-days in combat, according to his citation. His unit eliminated more than 1,140 militants with close-air support and saved the lives of 16 U.S. servicemembers. He also served as acting commander for five months.

Captain Eckel is an EOD instructor at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin AFB. The Sijan Award recognizes his assignment as EOD instructor at Sheppard AFB, Texas, from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008.

Then-Lieutenant Eckel deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom where his teams handled 96 improvised explosive devices and successfully recovered the air base after 57 terrorist attacks, according to his citation. At Sheppard AFB, he oversaw two EOD training divisions that annually trained more than 1,000 students from all services and 37 foreign nations.

He also helped raise more than $138,000 for scholarships for family members of fallen EOD technicians.

According to his citation, Chief Bobbitt served as the 15th Air Mobility Operations Squadron superintendent at Travis AFB, Calif., and as superintendent of the U.S. Forces Japan Command Center at Yokota AB from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008.

With the 15th AMOS, Chief Bobbitt managed more than 100 Airmen in 34 Air Force specialty codes to four deployments. As superintendent, the 15th AMOS earned recognition as the best medium squadron on Travis AFB for 2007. Chief Bobbitt also served as president of the 60th Air Mobility Wing Top Three organization and Air Force Sergeants Association Chapter 1320.

At the USFJ Command Center, Chief Bobbitt processed 200 operational reports, more than 50 exercise and real world missile launches, and three major exercises.

Sergeant Woodring was a special tactics tactical air control party member certified as a joint terminal attack controller assigned to the 17th Air Support Operations Squadron at Operational Location Alpha, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008. According to his citation, Sergeant Woodring deployed to provide JTAC support to Army Ranger units in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In Iraq, his participation in 120 direct-action missions led to the capture or elimination of more than 75 terrorists, 35 of them deemed high value. These missions were also credited with saving the lives of 10 local Iraqi nationals.

Sergeant Woodring was critically wounded from direct enemy fire during his second deployment. However, he still continued to call in assault helicopters on enemy positions within 100 meters prior to being medically evacuated.

Named for the first U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to receive the Medal of Honor, the Sijan award was first given in 1981. Captain Sijan was shot down over North Vietnam Nov. 9, 1967, and evaded capture for 45 days. He later died while in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp and was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

General Schwartz recounted Captain Sijan's exploits.

The captain's F-4C became engulfed in flames on then-first lieutenant's 52nd combat mission. Despite a fractured skull, a mangled right hand, and a compound fracture of his left leg, Lieutenant Sijan declined a rescue attempt by pararescuers because the search-and-rescue effort was too dangerous and would put them at extreme risk, General Schwartz said.

Lieutenant Sijan evaded capture for 45 days without food, water or survival kit. The North Vietnamese eventually captured him Christmas Day 1967. Despite serious injuries, Lieutenant Sijan fought off his captors and briefly escaped, but he was recaptured.

"He was tortured," General Schwartz said. "But despite extreme pain and malnutrition, he never yielded to the enemy. Eventually, he succumbed to pneumonia. Lance Sijan is legendary, epitomizing impeccable character and our warrior ethos par excellence."

(Master Sgt. Stan Parker contributed to this article.)