171st Member Recognized as one of the Regions Most Distinguished Veterans
By Staff Sgt. Michael Fariss, 171st Air Refueling Wing
/ Published December 07, 2014
Coraopolis, Pa. -- Lt. Col. Michele Papakie, the Wing Inspector General at the 171st Air Refueling Wing located near Pittsburgh, was recognized for her distinguished military career at a ceremony that honored veterans from the western Pennsylvania region. The event was held Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014 at the PNC Legacy Building in downtown Pittsburgh.
"Honoring Our Veterans" was the title of the program and this was the goal of the PNC Legacy Project. The initiative honored a total of 12 Western Pennsylvania veterans. These veterans had a vast range of service history, serving from World War II to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ages of veterans were also broad; ranging from 25 to 93 years old.
In addition to the veterans in attendance, there were many exhibits depicting the region's military heritage. There was a Wall of Honor, a story board exhibit that featured archival images of veterans from the area, a 101st Airborne battle dress uniform worn in Afghanistan, a pilot's helmet from the Korean War, and hung from the balcony over the ceremony was a tattered 48-star American flag that was flown on a watercraft that carried 150 soldiers to Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Among the veterans honored at the ceremony was Lt. Col. Papakie. She has over 27 years serving in our nation's military. She joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's Air Refueling Wing right out of high school, while attending college. Before serving as the Inspector General, she served as a public affairs officer and an equal opportunity officer at the 171st. In 2010 she deployed to Afghanistan where she served as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager for Regional Command East. This meant she oversaw the welfare of 93,000 Army troops. During the event, Papakie shared her experience and wisdom from her military experience. Her roots run deep in our country's military history. Her father served in the Air Force and now her son is serving in the Air Force as a search and extraction medic for the 193rd Special Operations Medical Group, also part of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.
"I am part of a legacy who sees military service as not only an obligation, but the highest honor," said Papakie at the ceremony.
Like most Guard Airmen, Papakie works at the 171st part-time, as a citizen-airman. While she is not serving in a full-time capacity, Papakie continues to serve her state and country in other ways. Her current full-time occupation is molding the lives of our future as a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. But, as is typical of Papakie, she is much more than a professor. Dr. Papakie is the chairwoman of the Journalism department, and she has taken it upon herself to help others work through the full-professor application process. She serves as township supervisor in Brush Valley and she volunteers as a rape/crisis hotline counselor for the Alice Paul House, a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Additionally, Papakie founded Prism Simple Solutions, LLC, a public relations agency with the sole purpose of providing an avenue for her students to gain public relations and marketing experience prior to going out into the competitive work force. This business has real clients and offers students experience in their field prior to graduation and the challenging fight to find a real job in the professional world.
"It amazes and confounds me when I'm wearing my uniform and I stop to get gas or run into the store to grab something to eat. People actually stop me and thank me for my service. They want to pay my bill or tell me about the family members and friends they have who serve. I remember when that first happened to my son - he was 18 years old, just out of basic training - he was an honor grad by the way - and someone bought his lunch and thanked him for his service. He called me on the phone and said, "Mom, what do I say when someone says that?" I told him that I always shake their hands, look them in the eye and say, thank you for your support."
She continued "my son and I are well aware that veterans of generations before us didn't always have the support and encouragement of the American people. I am so sorry for that. To my fellow veterans of past wars who didn't get to experience that kind of thanksgiving, thank you, and welcome home."
As Papakie has so diligently served her country and other airmen and soldiers, she is well respected by her superiors and subordinates. It is due to this that Lt. Col. Papakie was nominated for this award. It was quite apparent to those in attendance how much this event meant to her as she had tears in her eyes when she finished her speech.
"I'm proud and humbled to be considered one of the region's most distinguished veterans, and I'm sure my fellow honorees share that same sentiment. Thank you, and God bless America.