AUSA Announces 2021 National Award Winners

AUSA Announces 2021 National Award Winners

Photo by: U.S. Army

The Association of the U.S. Army has announced the recipients of its 2021 National Awards, which honor individuals for their selfless service and dedication to the Army and its soldiers.

“This year’s National Award recipients represent the very best of our association,” said retired Gen. Carter Ham, AUSA president and CEO. “I’m truly amazed by what each of them accomplished during an incredibly challenging year. Simply put, they each made a huge difference in the lives of others and in support of the Army and our nation. I could not be more proud of this extraordinary group.”

The awards will be presented at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, which will take place Oct. 11–13 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. 

Abrams Medal

The General Creighton W. Abrams Medal for exceptional service to the U.S. Army will be awarded to retired Gen. Gustave Perna. 

Perna, a former commander of Army Materiel Command, retired July 2 after serving for a year as chief operating officer of the federal government’s effort to develop, produce and distribute a new COVID-19 vaccine.

Confirmed by the Senate in July 2020 for the job, Perna delayed his planned retirement from the Army to serve. 

“In addition to his 40 years of extraordinary service to the nation in peace and war, he distinguished himself by taking on an incredibly significant role as the chief operating officer of the federal COVID-19 response,” said retired Brig. Gen. Leo Brooks, who nominated Perna for the award.

Perna delayed his “well-earned retirement” to “coordinate from scratch an unprecedented effort to store, protect, distribute and track COVID-19 vaccines for the nation at a time when our country faced perhaps its greatest epidemic crisis in history,” Brooks said.

He demonstrated “skilled leadership, vision, technical competence and a career of experience” at a critical time for the nation, he said. As a result, the U.S. was one of the first countries to “put the COVID-19 pandemic in check,” Brooks said.

A graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, Pennsylvania, with an associate degree, Perna was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant before earning a bachelor’s from the University of Maryland. He also has a master’s degree in logistics management from the Florida Institute of Technology.

He was the 19th commanding general of Army Materiel Command, leading more than 190,000 military and civilian personnel working in 11 subordinate commands around the world from September 2016 to July 2020. He previously was the deputy Army chief of staff for logistics, overseeing policies and procedures used by all Army logisticians around the world.

He also commanded the Joint Munitions Command and Joint Munitions and Lethality Lifecycle Management Command, where he was responsible for the management of $40 billion of conventional ammunition; and the 4th Sustainment Brigade, which he led in combat operations in Iraq.

Perna also deployed to Iraq as commander of the 64th Forward Support Battalion, part of the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colorado, and later served as director of logistics for U.S. Forces-Iraq. He also has served in Bosnia and Somalia.

Bainbridge Medal

The Sergeant Major of the Army William G. Bainbridge Medal for contributions to the Army Noncommissioned Officer Corps will be awarded to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Don Thomas of AUSA’s General of the Army Omar N. Bradley chapter in El Paso, Texas.

Thomas, who served in the Army for more than 28 years, was the assistant director of NCO and Soldier Programs at AUSA for 20 years, and he continues to serve and support soldiers, their families and veterans in the El Paso area. 

“His commitment, dedication, loyalty and overall distinguished service is noteworthy and deserving of recognition at the highest level,” said retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley, who was one of the people who nominated Thomas for the award. 

Drafted into the Army in 1971, Thomas was a military police soldier who led at every level from squad leader to command sergeant major of U.S. Forces-Korea and Eighth Army.

“Don led by example and helped train a generation of soldiers and noncommissioned officers,” said Richard Dayoub, president of the AUSA chapter in El Paso. “He served as a role model and was the very definition of what right looks like, both on and off duty.”

Thomas had a positive impact on the Army during turbulent times, and he played a key role in helping transform the Army into an all-volunteer force, Dayoub said.

“During military service he developed a well-deserved reputation as a caring leader who emphasized self and professional development, leader competence and encouraging lifelong learning,” Dayoub said. “His legacy in developing Army, joint and coalition partner leaders will last for generations.”

After retiring from the Army, Thomas worked at AUSA for 20 years, where he continued to serve and mentor soldiers and traveled extensively throughout the Army conducting professional development sessions for leaders at every level. 

He was instrumental in establishing the AUSA-sponsored SGM Larry Strickland Memorial Fund and Scholarship, which is presented to NCOs who are working to continue their education, and has been inducted into the Military Police Corps Regimental Hall of Fame and the Sergeants Major Academy’s Hall of Honor.

Drexel Biddle Medal

The Major General Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Medal for outstanding contributions to the Association of the U.S. Army will be awarded to retired Col. William Glenn Yarborough Jr., AUSA’s Second Region president.

A former president of AUSA’s George Washington chapter, Yarborough has worked tirelessly on behalf of soldiers, veterans and their families and dedicated countless hours to AUSA’s efforts to support the Army and those who serve in it.

A decorated veteran and Purple Heart recipient with “decades of selfless service,” Yarborough has served AUSA in a variety of roles, from the chapter level to the national level.

“All who know Glenn know that he has unbounded energy, is always the first to volunteer to ensure that a need is met, and know that he has poured his heart and soul into doing all that he can do for all who serve, have served, for civilians, for humanity,” said Dick Winter, president of the George Washington chapter, who nominated Yarborough for the award.

The list of Yarborough’s contributions to AUSA and the Army “goes on and on,” Winter said. “Glenn spends almost every waking moment thinking about what can be done for the betterment of our soldiers and families,” he said.

During his tenure as chapter president, the George Washington chapter won the Best Chapter Award for chapters with more than 1,000 members for four consecutive years, Winter said. He also has played a key role in the 2nd Region breakfast during the Annual Meeting and Exposition for decades; has been a staple at the Army Ten-Miler “HOOAH” tent for many years; and made sure the chapter’s annual “Wanna Be a Santa” event was a success, with plenty of toys for the children in attendance. 

“Suffice it to say, Glenn is indispensable,” Winter said.

Cribbins Medal

The Joseph P. Cribbins Medal for exemplary service by a Department of the Army civilian will be awarded to James Martin, dean of academics at the Army Command and General Staff College and chief academic officer for Army University.

A member of AUSA’s Greater Kansas City chapter with 16 years of civilian service, Martin plays a key role in establishing academic policies, plans, programs and procedures for the Command and General Staff College, one of the Army’s two graduate colleges. He is a subject-matter expert on adult education and educational administration for Army University, Army Training and Doctrine Command and the Army, and in his role at Army University, Martin provides broad expertise on issues concerning professional military education and academic programs.

He led the creation, planning and execution of the Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Workforce Development at the Sergeants Major Academy, the first undergraduate degree granted in the Army outside of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the first bachelor’s degree in any enlisted service school in DoD.

His other accomplishments include creating two new degree programs at the School of Advanced Military Studies, leading the initial transition of the tuition assistance and credentialing assistance programs to Army University, and leading a faculty improvement program at the Command and General Staff College.

Martin also is active in the local community, teaching classes on international relations and regional geography at churches in the Kansas City area, sponsoring international military students at CGSC, and participating in a virtual story time series for the Fort Leavenworth community during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Dixon Award

The John W. Dixon Award for outstanding contributions to national defense from industry will be awarded to James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union, America’s second-largest federal credit union serving 2.3 million members worldwide.

Since becoming CEO in April 2014, Schenck has led PenFed’s asset growth from $18 billion to $28 billion, and membership has grown from 1.3 million to 2.3 million. In the first quarter of 2021, PenFed donated nearly $1 million to charitable organizations, primarily supporting national defense.

A graduate of West Point and Harvard Business School, Schenck flew UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Korea and remains an active advocate for military and veterans’ issues. He has been honored by the National Military Family Association for his support for military family programs, and he was recognized by Canine Companions for Independence for his work to expand programs for veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Schenck also regularly volunteers with other charities and business groups, including the USO and the Armed Services Arts Partnership and Quality of Life Plus.

Established in 1935, PenFed offers certificates, checking, credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, auto loans, student loans and other financial services to members of the national defense community and all who support them.

The PenFed Foundation, in Alexandria, Virginia, is the nonprofit organization that works to help military community members secure their financial future. Since 2001, the foundation has provided more than $38.5 million in financial support to veterans, service members, families and caregivers. In March 2020, the foundation launched a COVID-19 relief program for service member and veterans, providing more than $540,000 to 932 qualifying military families.

McLain Medal

The Lieutenant General Raymond S. McLain Medal, given to a current or former member of the National Guard for advancing a seamless and component-integrated Army, will be awarded to Maj. Gen. Joseph Jarrard, U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s acting deputy commanding general and deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard. 

A graduate of North Georgia College who commissioned in 1988, Jarrard has been assigned to Army Europe and Africa since April 2019.

Throughout his career, Jarrard has “consistently demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills and management prowess in key roles culminating in his recent assignment,” retired Sgt. Maj. Scarlett Williams, president of AUSA’s Greater Atlanta chapter, said in nominating Jarrard for the award.

He is a “no-nonsense, results-oriented leader and manager who excels at leading people and building teams,” Williams added.

Previously, Jarrard served as the 42nd adjutant general of Georgia and, before that, commanding general of the Georgia Army National Guard. Under his leadership, the Georgia Army National Guard was selected by Army Forces Command to lead the way in implementing the Army’s Associated Unit Program—the only state organization to have both division and battalion-level associations with the active Army.

While on active-duty, Jarrard served in Germany and at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Riley, Kansas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2005 and worked as a defense contractor in Afghanistan from April 2010 to September 2011.

A Life Member of AUSA since 2011, Jarrard also has volunteered with the Rainbow Children’s Home in Dahlonega, Georgia, the local Rotary Club, and the Georgia Youth Challenge Academy. 

“He has dedicated his life to serving others and, in particular, our soldiers and their families,” Williams said. “He routinely works with contagious enthusiasm, leads by example, and is one of the most dedicated, mission-oriented people we know.”

Rudder Medal

The Major General James Earl Rudder Medal, given to a current or former member of the U.S. Army Reserve for advancing a seamless and component-integrated Army, is awarded to retired Lt. Col. John Dyess, an Army Reserve Ambassador for Tennessee.

Since his appointment in 2002, Dyess has been a national leader in communicating the value of the Army Reserve to leaders and the public in Tennessee, said Stephen Austin, assistant chief of the Army Reserve, who nominated Dyess for the award.

“He is a powerful force in recruiting, an influencer in the community, and an invaluable asset to senior leadership,” Austin said.

In September, Dyess will mark 56 years of service in the Army Reserve, including his civilian service, Austin said. His contributions include “exhaustive” recruiting efforts, in conjunction with Army recruiters, across Tennessee; building and maintaining relationships with employers of Army Reserve soldiers; and maximizing community leader and civilian law enforcement attendance at Operation Guardian Shield, an annual training exercise led by the 200th Military Police Command.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dyess actively engaged the media to bring attention to the newly formed Army Reserve Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces. The teams mobilized to support local hospitals and medical staff in the hardest hit parts of the country.

Dyess also is an active member of AUSA and is a “driving force” in his local chapter for fundraising and supporting soldiers and families from Tennessee, Austin said. 

His dedication has “produced enduring, significant and progressive changes to the Army Reserve and postured the component to be ready now while continually shaping tomorrow,” Austin said.

Volunteer Family of the Year Award

The AUSA Volunteer Family of the Year Award for promoting the well-being of soldiers and their family members is presented to the family of Sgt. 1st Class Justin Dixon of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Dixon and his wife, Tawni, who have a 10-month-old son named Cameron, spend hundreds of hours volunteering and giving back to the military community, said Ariel Aponte, president of AUSA’s Braxton Bragg chapter, in nominating the Dixons for the award.

“Both members currently volunteer for their local community, the Fort Bragg community and unit programs above and beyond what would be expected,” she said.

In the last two years, Justin Dixon, who’s serving as a first sergeant in his unit, has volunteered more than 350 hours of his time. He founded a Facebook outreach group for veterans to connect and go fishing together; works to provide fishing trips and equipment to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities; and plans fishing trips for wounded warriors from the Fort Bragg area.

Tawni Dixon has volunteered more than 600 hours, including working with the Armed Services YMCA to organize canned food drives and raise money for hygiene items for families in need, and initiating the Junior Paratrooper of the Year Dependent Award, which recognizes high school dependents of 82nd Airborne soldiers for their volunteer work.

She also served as a Soldier and Family Readiness Group leader, organizing events for families when their soldiers were deployed and raising money throughout the unit’s deployment, collecting more than $7,000 in donations for single soldiers and 151 care packages for the soldiers’ return home.

Tawni Dixon also volunteers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s integration course, answering questions and helping families new to the division and Fort Bragg, and has worked with a local Girl Scout troop to raise money for cookies for paratroopers.

The Dixons were the Military Family of the Year for North Carolina in 2021 and the Fort Bragg Family of the Year in 2020, Aponte said.

They have both “demonstrated outstanding leadership in planning and organizing major events that have resulted in tangible benefits to both their community and Army families stationed at Fort Bragg as well as across the nation,” Aponte said. 

AUSA National Service Award

AUSA is honored to present its National Service Award to USAA, which provides insurance, banking, investments, retirement products and advice to nearly 13 million service members, veterans and their families.

Based in San Antonio, USAA is a “pillar” in the community for “its tireless efforts to support both U.S. Army soldiers, spouses and family members as well as all members of military service,” said retired Lt. Col. Rich Stinson, president of AUSA’s Alamo chapter, in nominating USAA for the award.

“Their efforts locally and in support of the Alamo chapter severely pale in comparison to their national endeavors, community service and impact upon our soldiers, Army and U.S. military,” Stinson added.

Founded in 1922 when 25 Army officers got together in San Antonio and pooled their money to form an association to protect and insure one another when no one else would, USAA is known for its commitment to its members.

Since 1998, USAA Bank and The USAA Foundation have contributed $2.9 million to support Army Emergency Relief. In 2017, USAA Bank awarded a $230,000 grant every year for three years for a total of $690,000 in support of AER’s general fund, which provides emergency financial assistance, scholarships and grants and other support to troops in need.

USAA also is actively involved in efforts to end veteran homelessness, particularly in its hometown of San Antonio; support military caregivers; and boost programs for military kids and Gold Star families, as well as efforts to increase veteran and military spouse employment.

Most recently, USAA donated $30 million to 24 organizations to help troops, veterans and their families struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic.