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129th maintainer is the California ANG NCO of the Year

Tech. Sgt. Fernando Wilkins receives the California Air National Guard's NCO of the Year award from Maj. Gen. Dennis G. Lucas, Commander of the California Air National Guard, and Chief Master Sgt. Deborah K. Lott, California Air National Guard Command Chief, during the Outstanding Airman of the Year Banquet Jan. 17 in Riverside, Calif. (Photo courtesy of the California Air National Guard)

Tech. Sgt. Fernando Wilkins receives the California Air National Guard's NCO of the Year award from Maj. Gen. Dennis G. Lucas, Commander of the California Air National Guard, and Chief Master Sgt. Deborah K. Lott, California Air National Guard Command Chief, during the Outstanding Airman of the Year Banquet Jan. 17 in Riverside, Calif. (Photo courtesy of the California Air National Guard)

MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Fernando Wilkins was in Iraq when he got the word he was nominated as the 129th Maintenance Group's candidate for the California Air National Guard NCO of the Year competition. "I didn't even ask to be nominated. I was just doing my job like anybody else," when his supervisor nominated him, he said. 

"My boss, Senior Master Sgt. Mike Hill--he's a super boss," Sergeant Wilkins said. And he should know--having spent five years in the active duty Air Force, another five years in the Air Force Reserve, and 11 years working for United as an aircraft mechanic, he's had a few different bosses. 

But his boss, Senior Master Sgt. Michael S. Hill, the 129th Quality Assurance Superintendent, said the recognition Sergeant Wilkins got was well-deserved. 

Apparently, in addition to "just doing his job," Sergeant Wilkins found time to complete eight separate training schools along with a 75-day deployment to Iraq, where he worked as the sole military liaison for contractors there. Another plus was that Sergeant Wilkins had just graduated the previous year with a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

If that's not enough, he also finds time to be a single father for his seven-year-old daughter and perform as a singer in a salsa band, as he's done for nearly ten years. In May, one of the bands he sings with, "my main band, Orchesta Bakan," will release a CD; over half of the songs it features are sung and authored by him. (The band's website: www.orquestabakan.com) 

Sergeant Wilkins, a technician who works as a quality assurance inspector for the C-130s here, said that when he found out he was nominated, he called his parents in Panama to let them know. "They agreed to come, but until they got here, I don't think they knew just how big a deal it was," he said. After it sunk in, his father, who retired after 35 years in the California Air National Guard, was very impressed. "My mom told me it brought tears to his eyes," he said. 

Sergeant Wilkins said he's following a family tradition in the service. In addition to his father, his brother and sister are also veterans. 

However, after his initial stint on active duty, he said he tried the civilian sector for four years and found it just didn't offer everything the National Guard had, like "the opportunities I get for being in this job--going on trips, promotion, job security. The opportunity is there; you just have to take it. The Guard put me through school and helped me get my degree." 

After winning the NCO of the Year competition, Sergeant Wilkins said, "I'm a lifer now. I'm really enjoying it." He's encouraging his cousin and another friend to join the Guard. He's hoping to be a mentor not only to these two, but also the young mechanics he works with, and "taking them under (his) wing," showing them what the Guard has to offer. Maybe this go-getter will start a tradition for keeping the CA ANG OAY awards here at the 129th.