AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate hosts 71st annual awards ceremony 

  • Published
  • By Erica Harrah
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) - The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate hosted its 71st annual awards ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Jan. 22, 2024.  

Masters of Ceremonies Dr. Dalvir Hopkins and Joshua Forbes led the proceedings to celebrate the accomplishments of materials and manufacturing researchers, as well as the contributions of key administrative and military personnel.  

Darrell Phillipson, director of AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, opened the ceremony by applauding the accomplishments of this year’s finalists. 

“It is curiosity and creativity such as theirs that drive us all to push beyond the boundaries of existing research, and lead the way to lasting contributions to AFRL, the United States Department of the Air Force, and our nation’s defense,” said Phillipson. 

Among the many in attendance to honor finalists and award recipients that day was Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Chief Scientist Dr. Richard Vaia.  

“I have the privilege of witnessing the game-changing contributions that our people make to science, technology, and the United States Department of the Air Force on a daily basis,” Vaia said. “It is unfortunate that all of the note-worthy accomplishments that happen throughout the year cannot be celebrated in the span of a 90-minute award ceremony. It is always mind-blowing and humbling to know that what we see here is only a small slice of the work that goes into making us one of the premier materials and manufacturing labs in the nation.” 

Capt. Charles Caines, this year’s recipient of the Military Award for a Company Grade Officer, said he was honored to be included. 

“The military awards give the few AFRL military members in [the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate] a chance to shine,” Caines said. “While we are not here long, we have the opportunity to cause large, positive impacts to the Air Force's future. It is nice to be recognized for doing the best you can when thrown into a pure science and technology environment when the rest of the Air Force can be so different.” 

Dr. Jonathan Spowart and Kara Storage, recipients of the Robert T. Schwartz Engineering Achievement Award, also expressed their gratitude in receiving the award. 

“I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of the team responsible for this important technology transition to the F-35 Program,” Spowart said. “This award highlights AFRL’s continued leadership in Materials and Manufacturing, and our legacy of supporting the warfighter, using S&T-based engineering solutions to drive down costs.” 

Special guests in attendance representing the namesake of the Charles J. Cleary Scientific Award were Charles Cleary’s grandson Michael Cleary and great-grandson Cameron Cleary. The Cleary Award was established in 1952 to acknowledge exemplary research published or accepted for publication, in a recognized, refereed journal. 

The ceremony concluded with closing remarks from Phillipson. 

“To all the recipients, finalists and nominees, your drive to move us beyond what we know, toward what is possible, is a constant inspiration,” Phillipson said. “Thank you for your dedicated service to the United States Department of the Air Force and AFRL missions. This ceremony encapsulates a year of remarkable achievements for the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, and many have contributed to the success of this fantastic event.” 

Awards and recipients: 

  • Mission Support Award (Individual): Michelle Duffy 

  • Mission Support Award (Team): Operations Refresh Team – Lisa Artis, Matthew Geis, Brian Griffith, Kurt Lamm, James Look, Randall Mintz, Donald Piddock and Holly Smith 

  • Supervisor Excellence Award: Dr. Shanèe Pacley 

  • Program Management Award: Dr. Robyn Bradford-Vialva 

  • Engineering Expertise Award: Dr. Eric Heller and Michael Manders   

  • International Award: Dr. Nancy Kelley-Loughnane 

  • Dr. Katie E. G. Thorp Inspiration Award:  Dr. Vikas Varshney 

  • Vincent J. Russo Award for Leadership Excellence: Dr. Thomas Nelson, Jr. 

  • R. Lee Kennard S&T Manufacturing Heritage Award: Jeffrey Kingsley 

  • Military Award – Company Grade Officer:  Capt. Charles Caines 

  • Military Award – Field Grade Officer:  Maj. Andrew Beauchamp    

  • Director’s Award (Junior Individual):  Dr. Katherine Burzynski  

  • Director’s Award (Senior Individual):  Kara Storage 

  • Director’s Award (Team):  MUTANT Skins Team - Dr. Philip Buskohl, Dr. LoriAnne Groo, Dr. Ashley Hilmas, Dr. John Joyce-Rotella, Capt. Benjamin Lam, Dr. Christopher Kassner, Dr. Lisa Rueschhoff, Jonathan Boston  

  • Robert T. Schwartz Engineering Achievement Award:  Dr. Jonathan Spowart and Kara Storage  

  • Charles J. Cleary Scientific Achievement Award:  Dr. Luke Baldwin, Dr. Christopher Crouse, Dr. Jeffery Ethier, Dr. Peter Mirau  

About AFRL 

The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit