Staff Sgt. Ethan Wheeler, 23, of Trenton, assigned to the 126th Operations Support Squadron, was selected to receive the U.S. Air National Guard's Staff Sgt. Henry "Red" Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award. Gov. Bruce Rauner met with Wheeler in his office on Jan. 11 to honor Wheeler for being selected.
Rauner shook hands with Wheeler and presented him with a congratulatory letter.
"The leaders of this organization couldn't be more proud of Wheeler," said Maj. Gen. Richard Hayes Jr., the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard. "He set the example for airmen throughout the force with his accomplishments this year and I know he will continue to do great things."
The annual award recognizes enlisted aircrew members for their outstanding accomplishments, leadership and self-improvement in support of the enlisted aircrew operations field.
During the time period covered for the award, Wheeler deployed to Southwest Asia where he completed 61 combat aerial refueling missions and encountered five in-flight emergencies involving coalition fighter aircraft and his own KC-135 Stratotanker. While in theater, he also flew over 670 operational and training hours to accrue the most hours of any enlisted aircrew member in his deployed wing at that time.
Wheeler is a 2012 graduate of Highland High School. He is the son of Jonathan Wheeler Sr. (stepmother Nikki Wheeler) and the late Susan Wheeler.
Glitz, glitter, glamour and an abundance of amazing talent bedazzled all at the Aviston Sons of American Legion 12th annual Black Tie and Talent Show at Hidden Lake Winery in Aviston on Saturday night.
Eight young individuals competed for nearly $10,000 in scholarships at the contest, which was sponsored by the Aviston Sons of American Legion (SAL). Since its inception in 2005, this event has given away $120,000 in scholarships to Clinton County youth.
Thanks to many prayers, the ice storm came early and did not impair the event and approximately 300 people attended the competition which began with a happy hour at 5 p.m. followed by a four-course meal.
SAL Chaplain Tom Schrage said a prayer before the meal and recognized the veterans and soldiers serving this country. The main event started at 7:15 p.m. with Butch Gray of Aviston leading the “Pledge of Allegiance” then singing “God Bless America.”
Chairman Jim Kues then thanked everyone for attending and recognized co-chairman Craig Timmermann. Kues spoke about the community service efforts of the youth of the county and the values of shopping locally, stressing that this program’s main funding is from small businesses in Clinton County.
The four contest judges, who have extensive backgrounds in music, theater and pageants, were introduced by Jerry Kues: Gary Dollinger of Greenville, Jason Fishburne of Greenville, Kathy Barkau of Okawville and Crystal Groves of Greenville.
The master of ceremonies was Dr. Brian Walsh who did a wonderful job entertaining the crowd with his wit and interaction with the contestants.
The contest began with each contestant walking down the ballroom stairs with Hollywood style spotlights highlighting their formal attire. The contestants passed and shook hands with the judges, then introduced themselves on stage.
Each contestant gave a brief speech on a topic or event in their lives, then answered a question from the fishbowl. Many interesting questions were fished and the crowd was entertained by some of the responses, including lighthearted jabs at emcee Brian Walsh.
Winners of the 2017 competition were as follows:
• First place – Jake Mueller of New Memphis, a freshman at the University of Southern Indiana, spoke about “Playing the Game.” Jake spoke about when he was in high school, he thought that winning was all that mattered on the golf course, until a summer day when he was in a golf tournament and he met a young kid who was a member of the Special Olympics.
“I asked his parents why they were here and their answer shook me,” he said. “They said, ‘this is an outlet for him, where he makes friends and is in his safe space.’”
Jake said his life has been “altered” from that day, and stated that the game was “not always about winning or losing, but about how you play the game.”
Jake then sang the song “Make Them Hear You” from the Broadway musical “Ragtime.” He was accompanied on piano by Amy Page. Jake received the $2,000 Jerry Stockmann Memorial & TechKnow Solutions Scholarship.
• Second place – Wil Rakers of Aviston who spoke on “Following Your Dreams.” He then sang “Cry Me a River” by Michael Bublé. Wil received the $1,500 Dr. Jon & Karen Osborn/Mike & Linda Schuette/Tim & Kathy Droege Family Scholarship.
• Third place — Morgan Siever of Carlyle who spoke on “Good News of 2016.” She then played the piano tune “Graceful Ghost” by William Bolcom. Morgan received the $1,200 First National Bank of Carlyle Scholarship.
The following scholarships were also awarded:
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