By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 29, 2005) -- Two Airmen were among the six recipients of the annual Government Employees Insurance Company Military Service Awards.
For 17 years, GEICO has recognized servicemembers from all branches of the service -- including the Guard and Reserve -- for work in drug and alcohol abuse prevention, fire and safety prevention, and traffic safety and accident prevention.
Senior Master Sgt. Charles Funkhouser, of the 374th Fire Protection Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, won the award for his efforts related to fire prevention and safety. While stationed at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Sergeant Funkhouser installed more than 200 smoke detectors in one day. He also trained hundreds of local firefighters and is credited for developing a sophisticated fire and rescue training simulator.
Sergeant Funkhouser could not attend the April 25 award ceremony here because he is deployed to Iraq, but his wife attended on his behalf. He said in an e-mail interview he was surprised and honored by the award.
"I was surprised to say the least," he said. "I was just happy to be named Air Combat Command's selection. Winning at Air Force level was surreal. I didn’t think I would win the award. There are many firefighters around the Air Force (who) have accomplished much more than I. But I am honored to represent them."
The award-winning sergeant said safety is something within everybody's control, and that everybody must do their part.
"Fire safety for the most part is something we all have control over. I have seen the devastating results of people losing their belongings or someone they loved," he said. "Any chance to prevent that from happening makes the effort worthwhile."
Master Sgt. Kenneth Baldwin, of the 944th Fighter Wing’s safety office at Luke AFB, Ariz., was selected as a winner among reservists for his efforts in traffic safety and traffic accident prevention. Sergeant Baldwin conducted monthly local traffic safety training for more than 500 people the past five years, resulting in zero accidents. He was also recognized for his efforts in driver education and for his active involvement in the Delaware Safe Kids coalition -- an organization dedicated to bicycle safety awareness.
Sergeant Baldwin also said he was surprised to be selected.
"I couldn't believe it; it didn't seem real," he said. “Even when we flew in here it didn't seem real. I've been fortunate in my military career to work for some great bosses and great staffs in the safety offices I've worked in. It's very humbling to receive an individual award like this and really, the folks I worked with deserve to be up here with me."
Sergeant Baldwin's work in traffic safety spans both his careers -- as an Airman and as a civilian in Arizona.
Arizona has three of the top five cities in the nation known for people running red lights, he said.
"It is very dangerous, and people die every day there,” he said. “In my civilian job, one of my co-workers lost his daughter on prom night (to someone who ran a red light,) and he established the Red Means Stop Coalition. I asked if I could take his program out to the Reserve units and educate our troops as they are coming in."
He said he believes his efforts in bringing that education to his unit have been successful, as there have been no losses because of traffic accidents.
Today, both Airmen work in different parts of the world and in different components of the Air Force. But the two have a history together. They were both stationed at Dover AFB, Del., in the 1990s. Sergeant Funkhouser worked in the fire station, and Sergeant Baldwin worked in the 436th Airlift Wing’s safety office. Neither was surprised the other had won the award.
"I am not surprised at his selection, because he is tops in his field," Sergeant Funkhouser said of Sergeant Baldwin.
Sergeant Baldwin said seeing Sergeant Funkhouser's name on the list of award winners brings back memories of working at Dover.
"When we got the list of names, I looked and saw (his) name on there," Sergeant Baldwin said. "Right away it brings back welcome memories of working at Dover with him. We worked hand-in-hand when we were stationed there."
Sergeants Baldwin and Funkhouser were awarded with commemorative plaques and $2,500 honorariums from the GEICO Philanthropic Foundation.