Honor Guard NCO first enlisted recipient of Katherine Wright Award

  • Published
  • By Benjamin Newell
  • Air Force District of Washington PA
One of The United States Air Force Honor Guard's newest Senior NCO's will be the first enlisted recipient of an award honoring females who contribute to the science and art of aviation.

The National Aeronautical Association recognized Honor Guard Ceremonial Flight Chief, Master Sgt. Kimberly Muhlecke for 18 years of service to the science and art of flight. Sergeant Muhlecke grabbed attention for her contributions to the U-2 spy plane training program, as well as for applying her education in psychology to promote the welfare of fellow Airmen.

"One of the most interesting things about this award is who it's named for," said Sergeant Muhlecke. Named in honor of Orville and Wilbur Wright's sister, Katherine, the National Aeronautical Association's 2010 Katherine Wright trophy is earned by women who advance the science and art of aviation.

Wright supported her brothers throughout their lives, investing much of the money she earned teaching in a wood and canvas contraption no one thought would get off the ground. "I had no idea that the Wright brothers even had a sister, let alone that she played such a big part in the first flight."

Sergeant Muhlecke has a long history of transferring lessons learned in a range of disciplines and applying them to her career. She first brought an athletic prowess to the Air Force after attending The Ohio State University and earning a slew of NCAA Big Ten track and field honors. Along with several second place finishes in Big Ten long jumps, she earned first place in the triple jump in 1991. Soon after those athletic accomplishments, she joined the air force. In 1992, Sergeant Muhlecke finished second overall in the Armed Forces Track and Field long jump event.

Following assignments which contributed to flight line operations, training and human performance training, Sergeant Muhlecke now finds herself in charge of a flight of about 90 Airmen. "She brings a really even temper and measured reaction to some of the drama that arises from a flight of very young Airmen," said the Honor Guard's Director of Operations, Capt. Michael Fanton. "We've also gone through reorganization recently, and her unit is brand new. She is working to build a unit from the ground up."

The men and women of the Honor Guard confer honors on the nation's fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as support Presidential and Joint Chiefs of Staff events. Until recently, some of the ceremonies performed by the guard didn't have a way to capture the continuity of the most experienced guardsmen and the diverse ceremonies they execute. Sergeant Muhlecke is helping to build binders and step-by-step checklists - similar to those she used on the flight line - to maintain standardized ceremonies over many years.

In July Sergeant Muhlecke began a three year tour with the Honor Guard. Following training, she took on the tasks of NCO escort and NCOIC. The NCO escort leads the men and women of the ceremonial guard on a rotational basis with several Senior NCOs and officers. This SNCO position executes the same duty as a commander of troops, signaling the Airmen when to march, turn and perform timed weapons maneuvers. "Every time we go to Arlington, I get nervous," said Sergeant Muhlecke. "We may have three or more funerals in a day, but for each family and for each person, we only have one chance to get it right...and I want each event to be special."

Ceremonial Flight Commander Capt. Justin Hochstein is Sergeant Muhlecke's immediate superior. "Her ability to mentor airmen makes my job much easier," he said. "Her skills as an NCOIC and NCOIC escort really reflect well on the mission of the Honor Guard, specifically to represent the best of the Air Force, past and Present."

As Captain Fanton pointed out, selection for the Honor Guard itself is a very competitive process, "So it would follow that Sergeant Muhlecke would be selected for further awards and accolades as her career progresses."

The Katherine Wright award will be presented at the NAA Fall Awards Banquet on Monday, Nov. 8 2010, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.