A former Idaho Wing commander and a Colorado Wing cadet took top honors at Civil Air Patrol’s 2022 National Conference this week in Louisville, Kentucky.
Col. Michael Vorachek and Cadet Col. Jenna M. Jones were recognized at the conference as CAP’s Cadet of the Year and Senior Member of the Year, respectively.
“This is an unbelievable honor,” Vorachek said. “I know so many fantastic deserving volunteers from within our ranks, so I was very surprised to receive the notification of my selection.”
“It is extremely surreal,” Jones said. “I had never considered even being nominated for a national award like this, but I am honored to have been selected.”
Jones and Vorachek were joined in the conference spotlight by CAP’s Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year, Lt. Col. Dennis J. Borgerding of the Virginia Wing, and Maj. Luis A. Lebron, commander of the Squadron of Distinction — the Puerto Rico Wing’s Muñiz Air National Guard Base Cadet Squadron.
Senior Member of the Year: Col. Michael Vorachek
Vorachek, who joined CAP 54 years ago as a cadet in the North Dakota Wing, serves as the Idaho Wing’s disaster relief officer and homeland security officer, using his CAP and civilian skills to give selflessly of his time and talents as a senior member.
He has held numerous duty positions, including wing commander, wing vice commander and director of communications, of cadet programs, and of operations.
His leadership style is simple: “Don’t get in the way of our volunteers. Work with them to set a few parameters and turn them loose,” he said. “They make CAP one of the greatest volunteer organizations in existence.”
Vorachek holds an incident command-1 rating, the highest IC rating in CAP, and during the last 15 years has served as IC for many training and real-world missions. In 2021 he filled that role for Idaho Wing’s participation in the U.S. Air Force’s 366th Fighter Wing’s Gunfighter Flag exercise.
This was a week-long joint U.S. and multinational service exercise to improve combat effectiveness against multiple surface-to-air threats and mobile targets. CAP flew as an adversary, attempting to reach target destinations being protected by the U.S. and other friendly forces. Execution of the mission required extensive planning and coordination, and the 366th Fighter Wing recognized Vorachek as a top performer.
As the Idaho Wing’s liaison with the state Emergency Operations Center, Vorachek also coordinated with the state Office of Emergency Management in 2021 to renew the memorandum of understanding between Civil Air Patrol and the state.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Vorachek developed the Idaho Wing’s response plan to protect members’ health. He regularly monitored the state’s COVID -19 status and revised the wing’s response as infection levels changed, sometimes on a weekly basis.
Vorachek served 34 years in the U.S. Army duty and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He previously served as the president of the National Association for Search and Rescue and is credited with developing its memorandum of understanding with CAP. He serves as an Idaho Region 3 logistics section chief for an all-hazards Type 3 incident management team.
Cadet of the Year: Cadet Col. Jenna Jones
A member of the Colorado Wing’s Air Academy Cadet Squadron since February 2016, Jones used her leadership, people skills, and work ethic as positive influences on her fellow cadets as the unit’s cadet commander. The squadron flourished under her command despite setbacks presented by COVID-19 restrictions.
“As a leader, my focus is to be approachable and encourage teamwork while modeling the core values,” Jones said. “I set this standard as I lead by example, serving those around me and being aware of their wellbeing.”
Jones served as the Rocky Mountain Region representative on CAP’s National Cadet Advisory Council and was cadet commander of the 2021 Colorado Wing Encampment.
Her natural leadership abilities and determination helped her lead the cadet competition team to first place in the Colorado Wing. She learned cybersecurity skills and captained the squadron’s varsity team, leading it to victory in the state competition and qualifying for the national competition.
Her accomplishments are also reflected in her high school career. Jones was an Air Force Junior ROTC commander at Air Academy High School and a member of the Kitty Hawk Air Society, representing 20% of Junior ROTC cadets academically. She maintained a 4.68 GPA with a rigorous academic schedule including Advanced Placement courses in calculus, English, U.S. history and U.S. government and politics.
Jones attended the CAP National Cyber Defense Training Academy and National Blue Beret, one of CAP’s signature cadet activities, held in conjunction with EAA AirVenture, the nation’s largest air show.
“Civil Air Patrol has had such an impact on my life. I would not be who I am today without the cadet program,” she said. “It has challenged me physically, mentally, and socially and has given me the opportunity to continuously push myself out of my comfort zone.”
Jones is now a student at Norwich University in Vermont, majoring in computer security and information assurance. Her plans include attending law school and potentially commissioning into the U.S. Air Force.
“I plan to stay involved in Civil Air Patrol as a cadet in Vermont while attending college,” she said, adding, “The best part of Civil Air Patrol, at least to me, is the community that it builds.
“No matter where I go across the nation, I know that there is a strong connection among Civil Air Patrol members.”
AE Teacher of the Year: Lt. Col. Dennis J. Borgerding
Borgerding has been a member of Civil Air Patrol since 2009 and an educator for over 25 years. He teaches history to gifted fifth- through eighth-graders at Old Donation School in Virginia Beach.
He finds ways to weave science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and aerospace concepts into history, geography, and even the visual arts. Borgerding’s school administrators and colleagues rely on him as an invaluable resource to bring aerospace science and other STEM-related curriculum across grades and disciplines.
As one fellow educator said, “He can take any educational subject and show how aerodynamics are a part of it.” Borgerding also sponsors the school’s Aeronautics Club and is a regular STEM speaker in classrooms.
Borgerding assisted the visual arts teacher with writing and implementing a grant to fund a STEAM (STEM plus art) lesson involving aerodynamics. Because of to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, he devised a virtual field trip to a local aviation museum to teach students about the fundamentals of flight. The students used the information they learned to create their own innovative aeronautical machines.
In another visual arts lesson, Borgerding taught students the technical logistics of flight while showing them aerial photographs taken by Civil Air Patrol. He challenged them to create artwork inspired by the aerial photographs and their newfound knowledge of flight. He later arranged to have their artwork displayed at a CAP facility in Richmond.
Borgerding said it “seems strange” to receive an award for doing what he loves to do.
“I am just having fun with students, and then I get selected for a national award,” he said. “Being awarded for having fun? Wow!”
Squadron of Distinction: Muñiz Air National Guard Base Cadet Squadron
F. Ward Reilly Leadership Award: Maj. Luis A. Lebron
As commander of the Puerto Rico Wing’s Muñiz Air National Guard Base Cadet Squadron, Lebron was selected for Civil Air Patrol’s F. Ward Reilly Leadership Award.
He has commanded the Muñiz squadron since September 2019. The unit has earned the Squadron of Distinction award the past two years under his leadership. He credits the squadron’s achievements to diligently working to develop a well-rounded unit with positive leadership and consistent, high expectations of the members.
The squadron consists of 64 cadets and 22 senior members. Last year, members implemented an aggressive recruiting plan that included two open houses, with 83% of those in attendance becoming members. During the open houses, members guided visitors through activities in rocketry, robotics, military-style drill, and problem-solving challenges. The activities generated membership interest from the prospects and served as an opportunity for squadron team-building.
The squadron also focused on retaining new members by using CAP’s Cadet Great Start program and emphasizing cadet participation across the board. Within the first few months of joining, 100% of new cadets experienced their first orientation flight and earned CAP’s first cadet achievement, the Maj. Gen. John F. Curry Award.
The squadron also had a 90% cadet participation rate in CAP’s Aerospace Education Excellence program.
Here is a complete list of the other national awards presented during the conference:
Frank Brewer Memorial Aerospace Award – Cadet Category
Cadet Maj. Rylee Schmuck
River City Cadet Squadron
Frank Brewer Memorial Aerospace Award – Senior Category
Lt. Col. Revone Bauwens
Show Low Squadron 210
Frank Brewer Memorial Aerospace Award – Individual/Organization
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Kittinger
Air Force Sergeants Association National Cadet Noncommissioned Officer of the Year
Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Berenice Blanton
Heartland Composite Squadron
Inspector General of the Year
Col. Linette Lahan
North Central Region Headquarters
Lt. Col. T. Keith Riddle Aircrew Member of the Year
Lt. Col. John R. Western
17th Composite Squadron
Col. Dion E DeCamp Ground Team of the Year
Franklin County Composite Squadron
North Carolina Wing
Col. Edwin W. Lewis Jr. Incident Staff Member of the Year Award
Lt. Col. Robert L. Ditch
Wyoming Wing Headquarters
Col. David A. Kantor Operations Support Officer of the Year Award
Maj. Ian Burkett
Kentucky Wing Headquarters
Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm Aerospace Education Officer of the Year
Capt. Leslie Kneipfer
Bridgwater State University Composite Squadron
Paul W. Turner Safety Award
Safety Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Dennis Hunter
Southern New Mexico Group
New Mexico Wing
Chaplain Maj. Gen. Robert P. Taylor Chaplain of the Year
Chaplain (Capt.) Dovid E. Grossman
Col. Charles Compton Composite Squadron
Character Development Officer of the Year
Capt. Karen C. Padgett
Lake Hood Cadet Squadron
Director of Finance of the Year
Lt. Col. Laurie Lancaster
Texas Wing Headquarters
Maj. Gen. Dwight H. Wheless Legal Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Elliott Korona
Malcolm C. Kyser Jr. Communicator of the Year
Lt. Col. Jon C. Morris
North Central Region Headquarters
Historian of the Year
Capt. Erick W. Nason
Sumter Composite Squadron
South Carolina Wing
Col. Robert “Bud” V. Payton PAO of the Year
Capt. Brandon W. Lunsford Sr.
Riverside Composite Squadron
John V. “Jack” Sorenson Cadet Programs Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Jane B. Smalley
Red Oak Cadet Squadron
Education and Training Officer of the Year
Capt. Belinda N. Lewis
Counterdrug Officer of the Year
Maj. Thomas R. Barbre III
Los Alamitos Glider Training Squadron 41
George Texido Legislative Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Franklin G. Birt
New York Wing
Property Management Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Craig G. Richardson
Fayetteville Composite Squadron
North Carolina Wing
Health Services Officer of the Year
Lt. Col. Stephen Leighton
Sugar Valley Composite Squadron
North Carolina Wing
Daedalian Exceptional Instructor Pilot of the Year
Maj. Roy Kauer
Bishop Airport Senior Squadron