146 Airlift Wing, Public Affairs, California Air National Guard
Story by Master Sgt. Nicholas Carzis
After a multi-year hiatus caused by a nationwide pandemic in 2020, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing (146 AW) celebrated their outstanding Airmen nominations as two of their own were selected as the non-commissioned officer and field grade officer of the year at the state level during the California Military Department’s Service Member of the Year banquet held on Jan. 21, in Anaheim, California.
Tech. Sgt. Sonja Torres from the 146th Operations Support Squadron (146 OSS) and Lt. Col. Jason Matsouka, commander 146th Logistics Readiness Squadron (146 LRS), received the state-level award after earning wing-level nominations during the Hollywood Guard’s local Service Member of the Year awards banquet in December.
Torres, who is currently deployed, was represented and celebrated in front of hundreds of service members from the California State Military Department.
After finishing high school, Torres joined the 146 AW (date) and has been supporting the 146 OSS as an all-source intelligence analyst, gathering multiple variations of information from other intelligence, fusing them, and creating different forms of intelligence reporting analysis.
Torres’s direct supervisor Master Sgt. Laurel Yarnall, an intelligence analyst for the 146 OSS, says she’s impressed with Torres’s tenacity toward her career progression and that her award is very deserving.
“She progressed in our shop so quickly and has been involved in many iterations of deployments for our wing expanding many vast variations of missions, including our MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) mission. She is the most highly experienced analyst in our shop right now, and we couldn’t be more proud of her recognition and award,” said Yarnall.
Among the myriad achievements and milestones accomplished by Torres, Yarnall added that Torres’s innovative thinking and technological prowess had made significant contributions towards new capabilities for aircrew to leverage while on the mission.
“She’s improved the original one-dimension maps intel used to give our aircrew hypothetical threat assessments and upgraded and modernized them to provide a more realistic fly-through experience. It dramatically helps project the relationship between the threat and the aircraft, creating detailed visibility around the terrain from the aircrew and the threat’s point of view. Her innovation directly helps our pilots better formulate defensive maneuvers, which helps keep them safer,” said Yarnall.
Yarnall says she was elated when she found out Torres had won in her category and hopes Torres knows just how much her group is proud of her.
“It’s so gratifying to see someone getting recognized for everything they have done for the wing, even when they don’t realize what they’ve done for the wing,” said Yarnall.
Yarnall says she feels that Torres’s award highlights an already excellent year for the 146 AW, as Torres’s victory comes on the heels of another outstanding Airman recognized this year.
“It makes me feel like we are the premiere airlift wing in the Air National Guard. First, we had Senior Airman Madison Lucas win the HAF (Headquarters Air Force) award, and now we have Sonja winning at the state level, and I know she’s going to win at the national level because she’s awesome,” said Yarnall.
Lucas, an Aviation Resource Management Journeyman assigned to the 115th Airlift Squadron, won two separate awards in the Aviation Resource Management (ARMS) career field in 2022. Claiming the National Guard Bureau 2022 Air National Guard Outstanding Aviation Resource Management award in the Airman Category, then winning at the HAF level as the Air Reserve Component Outstanding Airman, where she was awarded by Maj. Gen. Albert G. Miller, Director of Training and Readiness, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.
“With everything the 146 AW has accomplished and our Airmen who consistently show they are ready to perform above the norm, I think that it puts Channel Islands on the map. It makes me feel like we are a part of an organization that wins and that we are really setting the standard across the Air National Guard,” said Yarnall.
While Torres was unavailable to attend the banquet, Hollywood Guard members in attendance did have the chance to personally celebrate the wing’s second victory of the night as the Matsuoka took the stage to accept his award.
Matsuoka joined the 146 AW after being selected as the 146 LRS commander after serving at the National Guard Bureau Asset Management and Operations Division, which manages over 170 installations in 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia.
Lt. Col. Joe Wildman, commander 146th Mission Support Group, who has worked directly alongside Matsuoka for the last four years, says that the enduring success of Matsuoka’s efforts has rippled past the squadron and group level—attributing Matsuoka’s success to his extensive knowledge of the maintenance career field and strategic vision he’s developed working at National Guard Bureau.
Since his arrival, Matsuoka has assumed the acting deputy group commander role for the 146th Mission Support Group. During that time, Wildman says he was critical in deploying many missions across the spectrum of operations at the 146th Airlift Wing.
“He is the person I rely on most heavily in our group. He takes it upon himself to be a proactive leader and has the ability to anticipate the needs of the group and the wing. He’s always leaning forward and making sure that we are ready to support,” said Wildman.
Wildman says working with Matsuoka has been phenomenal, and his recognition is well deserved, proclaiming that no award can quantify the importance of his impact at Channel Islands.
“We are all so proud of him for what he’s accomplished, and It was such a great experience to be there when he was announced the winner. He was a little surprised he won, but I was not. I think maybe that’s because sometimes we can’t acknowledge our contributions while engaged with everything, even when it’s all right in front of us. So, it was a great chance to see him get that recognition for his work,” said Wildman.
“It’s hard to articulate how much he’s done for this wing. His role as a squadron commander for one of the largest squadrons on the base and his ability to assist me with these other functions and necessities have been invaluable. I can’t speak highly enough of him,” said Wildman.