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Niagara Falls Guardsman receives NAACP award

Senior Master Sgt. Venita Smith, assigned to the 107th Attack Wing, receives the NAACP Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award for 2020, Niagara Falls, N.Y., June 22, 2020. Smith is the Air National Guard recipient of the award which is presented annually to members of the armed forces in recognition of their efforts in promoting civil rights and epitomize the qualities and core values of their respective service. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 107th Attack Wing)

Senior Master Sgt. Venita Smith, assigned to the 107th Attack Wing, received the NAACP Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award for 2020, Niagara Falls, N.Y., June 22, 2020. Smith is the Air National Guard recipient of the award which is presented annually to members of the armed forces in recognition of their efforts in promoting civil rights and epitomize the qualities and core values of their respective service. (U.S. Air National Guard courtesy photo)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. (AFNS) --

Senior Master Sgt. Venita Smith, assigned to the 107th Attack Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, has been selected as the Air National Guard recipient of the NAACP Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award 2020.

Smith was chosen from across the Air Force for the award emphasizing those who serve their community and are dedicated to improving society.

"Senior Master Sgt. Smith exemplifies what a candidate for the Roy Wilkins Award should aspire to be. She is committed to helping anyone she comes in contact with, all Airmen and members of our communities. She is the Airmen's Airman," said Col. Gary Charlton, 107th AW commander. "Congratulations, we wish you the best of luck as you compete for the next higher-level award. Senior Master Sgt. Smith makes us all want to stand a little bit taller!"

Smith enlisted in the Air Force in medical administration in 1990. She served on active duty and transferred to the New York Air National Guard in 2002, to what was then the 107th Air Refueling Wing.

As a surprise to Smith, her commander, Col. Todd Guay, 107th Operations Group commander, nominated her for the award in September 2019.

"I immediately thought of Senior Master Sgt. Smith. Having hired Smith as my operations squadron first sergeant four years ago, I have never seen a more compassionate, caring and selfless leader in the Air Force," Guay said. "Smith not only cares deeply about her military family, she shows that same caring attitude towards her community."

When she received the award, she focused on community and service.

"Winning this award, it's not about me. It's about showing that this is my country … the Air National Guard here in New York can be a model, especially at this wing. I was allowed to shine and be me," Smith said. "Anything less than ownership is not an option. Take care of yourself and others."

The Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award is presented annually to members of the armed forces in recognition of their efforts in promoting civil rights and epitomizing the qualities and core values of their respective service. The award is named in honor of Roy Wilkins, who led the NAACP for more than 20 years and founded the Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Department in 1969.

Smith is described by her coworkers as exemplifying "leading by example" in both civilian and military communities. One such example comes from her time with Pillars of Hope in her hometown of Rochester.

Pillars of Hope, supported by the City of Rochester volunteers, "are local African American and Hispanic professionals who work with adopted city schools to provide personal experiences and positive support to elementary and middle school-aged students."

Smith describes her most emotional experience, "I remember asking the person who got me involved what to wear, and they said my uniform. When I got to the classroom, the teacher asked the children how many had seen a woman of color in a uniform. None of them had ever seen that. That's when I was thankful I did wear it; they need to see things to envision it (for themselves) … this is what I'm going to wear every time. That was important to me".

Smith resides in Niagara Falls and recently volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, helping families build and improve places to call home, "not only through home construction but through advocacy, neighborhood revitalization and financial education."

"My mother and father said you three (sisters) are the best of us; you reflect us. It was never just about us; we reflect them. We were always active in the community because this is our community," Smith said. "When I heard about Habitat for Humanity in Niagara Falls, that was just who we were as a family. It was easy for me to do. I love doing that."

As she takes on new roles and responsibilities at the 107th AW, she has one reminder for fellow Airmen:

"Just be open; so many people have so many misconceptions. Be open. There is more out there than we even know."

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