363d ISR Wing NCO embodies Lance P. Sijan’s leadership and character

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt
  • 363d ISR Wing Public Affairs
On Nov. 9, 1967, Capt. Lance P. Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft during a flight over North Vietnam and evaded capture for more than six weeks. Sijan was the first Air Force Academy graduate to receive the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously, in 1976. He received the military’s highest honor for his extraordinary courage, service and sacrifice as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam. His strict adherence to the military Code of Conduct is a testament to his unwavering commitment to serve at all costs.
Since 1981, the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award has been given annually with four individuals being recognized nationally with the award every year at the Pentagon. The award recognizes the accomplishments of officers and enlisted leaders who demonstrate the highest qualities of leadership in the performance of their duties and the conduct of their lives.
The Air Force recently recognized the Lance P. Sijan Award recipients from 2019 to 2022 during an award ceremony at the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia, April 3, 2023 and one of our own was named the winner in the Junior Enlisted category.
Tech. Sgt. Connor Hamilton, 526th Intelligence Squadron Chief of Training, was awarded for his efforts as the Target Development NCOIC for the 609th Air Operations Center in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
“It is extremely humbling and a tremendous honor,” Hamilton said. “However, if you know the story of Capt. Lance Sijan, you know what he did and what he went through. I will say I do not feel worthy, and I will never feel worthy of having my name associated with his. He is the epitome and embodiment of our Air Force's core values.”
The Arkansas-native was highlighted for leading nine joint teams and 50 members during Operation Inherent Resolve and Allied Refuge. He equipped senior leaders with courses of action that resecured Hamid Karzai International Airport enabling history’s largest evacuation of 124,000 refugees. He also led a combatant command planning group fusing State Department and military strategy, deploying 1,000 warfighters to rescue 5,000 personnel, according to his package and Air Force Sijan Award winner recognition article.
“I had the privilege to serve an amazing team at the 609 AOC that year,” said Hamilton. “From the bottom up, we had outstanding professionals from all branches and walks of life. It is not every day you have a team who operates at that level. We had junior Airmen like then Senior Airman Stephan Oskian that was performing like seasoned technical sergeants, NCOs like Tech. Sgt. Joshua Gomez performing like a master sergeant, Senior NCOs like Master Sgt. Mark Garlit acting like a chief master sergeant, and our leader Maj. Sara Savage operating at the Colonel level. I am thankful for the opportunities I was given during that period, and I am in debt to the team for allowing me to take care of them and to execute the mission.”
Maj. Savage, who is now the 25th Intelligence Squadron, Detachment 2 commander, wasn’t surprised to see Hamilton’s name progress through all the levels for the Sijan nomination and ultimately take it home.
“Connor has this natural ability to lead people and connect with those around him, even if he doesn't supervise them,” Savage said. “He will take the time to teach others, to mentor them, and to support them. And he always does so with a smile on his face. He perseveres, in any situation. He puts the team first and will go to great lengths to ensure all Airmen are taken care of and prepared for whatever the
Mission may bring. From me, 10/10 would go to war with.”
As the Chief of Training at the 526th, Hamilton currently advises his commander and leads the unit on all matters regarding operational training and mission readiness for more than 100 assigned total force personnel. Additionally, he manages, designs, tailors, and delivers Initial Qualification Training and Continuation Training, as well as vet Specialized Training opportunities to maximize the unit training budget.
“I get to develop the next generation and watch them grow during their time at the 526 IS,” Hamilton said. “Training is the bed rock for each squadron, and it impacts how we operate along with impact the Combat Air Force. Most of the members coming through the training program are new enlisted and officers that will be the ones carrying the torch in 2030 and beyond.”
Hamilton, a third-generation service member, followed the footsteps of his grandfather, who served in WWII on Omaha Beach during D-Day, and his father who served in Vietnam.
“I remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and when the time came to make the decision to go to college or serve my nation – it was an easy choice,” said Hamilton. “I view it as ‘it was my turn to do my part and to pay a little down on this big loan called freedom, we took out on July 4th, 1776’”.