MACbalsemsThe Puerto Rico Wing’s public affairs officer, Capt. Elias Roman-Rivera, has been recognized with top honors in the  Maj. Howell Balsem Civil Air Patrol Public Affairs Exceptional Achievement Awards for work promoting CAP during 2022.

Elias was chosen to receive the Lt. Col. Al Pabon Best in Show Award for the two-segment coverage he secured Oct. 18-19 on WAPA-TV, an independent station in San Juan.

Judges praised Elias for “a concerted effort to get a news story that covered the broad range of CAP activities in Puerto Rico. The result was not just one, but two pieces, each more than six minutes long.” The first focused on orientation fights for educator members, the second for missions responding to such disasters as hurricanes, earthquakes, and the COVID pandemic.

The project was selected to receive one of three first-place Balsem Awards recognized by the judges. Another eight entries were recognized with second-place Awards of Excellence, while three third-place Certificates of Merit were also awarded.

The Mid-Atlantic Region accounted for four winners – one Balsem, two Awards of Excellence, and one Certificate of Merit. Three of those went  to North Carolina Wing public affairs officers. 

Two entrants received two awards each:

  • Capt. Maryan Tooker, Nevada Wing public affairs officer, with Awards of Excellence in Creative Services and Photography, and 
  • 2nd Lt. Jessica Schaefer, assistant PAO for the Wisconsin Wing and former PAO for the Stevens Point Composite, Squadron, with Certificates of Merit for Digital Engagement and Photography. 

In all, 26 qualifying entries were received from 12 wings across sevem regions.

In addition to Elias’ entry, Balsems were awarded to:

  • Capt. Brooke Erikson, assistant Oklahoma Wing PAO and also PAO for the Enid Composite Squadron, and  
  • 2nd Lt. Venkat Pillarisetty, assistant PAO for the Delaware Wing’s Delaware Air National Guard Cadet Squadron .

Erikson’s social media campaign promoting the Oklahoma Wing encampment received the Balsem for Digital Engagement. Her eight posts from June 26-July 4, 2022, reached an audience exceeding 84,000, and impressed the judges to praise the “outstanding photos … (with) good, short captions that linked to another page to drive views.”

Pillarisetty’s Balsem was awarded in the Photography category, with judges lauding his shot of a CAP aircraft towing a glider for “great line of sight … that “includes obvious CAP aircraft in action.

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 complete list of awards:

Creative Services 

Award of Excellence
Maj. Maryann Tooker
Nevada Wing 
“Wing Conference Poster”

Capt. Glenda Engstrom 
North Carolina Wing
“Promotional Tote/Pen”
1st Lt. Michael Roof  
Tri-City Composite Squadron
Michigan Wing
“Recruiting Flyer”

Digital Engagement 

Balsem Award
Capt. Brooke Erikson, 
Enid Composite Squadron 
Oklahoma Wing
“Oklahoma Wing Encampment Social Media Campaign”

Certificate of Merit
Capt. Racheal Gliniak 
Pitt-Greenville Composite Squadron
North Carolina Wing
“Cadet Recognition at East Carolina University Military Appreciation Football Game”

2nd Lt. Jessica Schaefer
Stevens Point Composite Squadron
Wisconsin Wing
“Social Media Campaign to Increase Cadet Membership at Rib Mountain Flight”

External Media Coverage 

Balsem Award
Capt. Elias Roman-Rivera 
Puerto Rico Wing
“Two-Part Local News Coverage of Aerospace Education Program and Emergency Services”

Award of Excellence
Maj. Sybrian Castleman
Florida Wing
“TV Coverage of CAP’s Service During Hurricane Ian Response”

Maj. Robert Green  
Black Hawk County Composite Squadron
Iowa Wing
“Coverage of Congressional Gold Medal Presentation to Iowa Wing  Member Hazel Swanson”

1st Lt. Rebecca Ann Calvert, 
St. Tammany Composite Squadron
Louisiana Wing
“Coverage of Congressional Gold Medal Presentation to Family Members of 1st Lt. Frederick Englert”

Lt. Col. Liz Dunster 
Tar River Composite Squadron
North Carolina Wing
“Coverage of Two-Squadron Combined Team’s First-Place Finish in All Services Gold Tier of State Round of CyberPatriot XIV”


Balsem Award
2nd Lt. Venkat Pillarisetty
Delaware Air National Guard Cadet Squadron
Delaware Wing
“Glider Orientation Flight”

Award of Excellence
Maj. Maryan Tooker
Nevada Wing
“CAP Aircraft and U.S. Air Force C-140 Under a Brilliant Sunset

Certificate of Merit
2nd Lt. Jessica Schaefer
Stevens Point Composite Squadron
Wisconsin Wing
“Airman Training School Classroom”