National Headquarters’ Maj. Howell Balsem Civil Air Patrol Public Affairs Exceptional Achievement Awards this year feature special recognition for Capt. Elizabeth Dunster, commander and public affairs officer of the North Carolina Wing’s Tar River Composite Squadron.

Dunster was honored with the Maj. Al Pabon Best in Show Balsem Award for coverage she generated for the squadron in 2020 – articles on an online visit to Tar River members by Brig. Gen. Ed Phelka, CAP national vice commander and on the squadron’s celebration of its 40th anniversary.

The judges praised the article on Phelka’s visit asa wonderful article that achieved spectacular results,” adding that “Dunster didn’t let something as routine as a Zoom call go by without turning it into yet another opportunity to publicize the squadron she commands.”

Dunster “never fails to impress or delight us,” one judge said.

The Phelka article was one of two entries recognized with a first-place Balsem Award. Lt. Col. Todd Epp, South Dakota Wing chief of staff and assistant PAO, also achieved that distinction with his article on “First Deliveries of COVID-19 Vaccine in South Dakota,” which generated  media coverage in the area and beyond, prompting one judge to evaluate it as an “overall wonderful entry.”

In all, 15 members – including two cadets – from 11 wings and one region headquarters were recognized with two first-place Balsem Awards, four second-place Awards of Excellence and 11 third-place Certificates of Merit in five categories.

The Balsem awards program is named for Civil Air Patrol’s first PAO, who served as an Army Air Forces officer during World War II and then as CAP PAO from 1949-1956. The awards competition provides CAP PAOs with the opportunity for recognition for outstanding achievement in up to 11 categories.

The Best in Show Balsem Award is named for Pabon, former director of public affairs for the North Central Region and former national volunteer team leader for public affairs. He was named National PAO of the Year for 2006, and his newsletter and website were recognized with Balsem awards in 2007 at the first National PAO Academy in Atlanta, when the inaugural Balsems were presented. He died unexpectedly from natural causes at age 46 in July 2011.

Here is the full listing —

Balsem Award
­­­­­­­­­­­­External Media Coverage
Lt. Col. Todd Epp 
South Dakota Wing Headquarters
“First Deliveries of COVID-19 Vaccine in South Dakota”

Capt. Elizabeth Dunster 
Tar River Composite Squadron, North Carolina Wing
“CAP Squadron Honored by CAP National Vice Commander­’s Visit”

Award of Excellence
External Media Coverage
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“In Memoriam: Lt. Col. Mary Fuller”
Lt. Col. David Miller
North Central Region Headquarters

­­­­­­“Local CAP squadron Commemorates 40th Anniversary”
Capt. Elizabeth Dunster
Tar River Composite Squadron, North Carolina Wing

“Idaho Search and Rescue Team Joins with CAP in Multi-State Exercise”
­2nd Lt. Stephanie Payton 
Boise Composite Squadron, Idaho Wing

“Students Soar in Civil Air Patrol”
Cadet 2nd Lt. Preston Kwok
West Bay Composite Squadron 192, California Wing

Certificate of Merit
Capt. Elias Roman Rivera
Kingdom Cadet Squadron, Puerto Rico Wing

Crisis Management
“COVID Mission PIO Support”
Lt. Col. Lynne Albert 
North Carolina Wing Headquarters

Lt. Col. Robert Ditch 
“Operation Pulse Lift”
Falcon Composite Squadron 305, Arizona Wing

External Media Coverage
“Virginia Wing COVID-19 Relief Efforts”
Maj. Jacob Bixler
Virginia Wing Headquarters 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­“CAP Public Affairs Strategic Plan”
Capt. Karl Falken
Wind River Composite Squadron, Wyoming Wing

“Serving the Community During Global Pandemic”
Cadet 2nd Lt. Niyati Shah
Capt. Bud Jackson Composite Squadron, New Jersey Wing

“PPE Points of Distribution”
Capt. Hazard Bentley
Charlotte Senior Squadron, North Carolina Wing

“Sparktakular 40th”
Capt. Elizabeth Dunster 
Tar River Composite Squadron, North Carolina Wing

“Honoring Those Who Served”
Capt. Christopher Freeze
Leesburg Composite Squadron, Virginia Wing

“Teamwork – Maryland Wing Warrior Challenge”
1st Lt. Olivia Higgins
Harford Composite Squadron, Maryland Wing

Social Media
“Final Salute (Facebook)”
1st Lt. Elizabeth Linares
Mount Airy Composite Squadron, Maryland Wing