MacDill's first Airman of the Year reflects on 50th Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brandon Shapiro
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Gas was 30 cents a gallon, a postage stamp was 5 cents, and the average cost of a new car was $3,500. The year was 1964 and things around MacDill were rapidly changing because of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the transition from Strategic Air Command to Tactical Air Command.

Amongst the changes was the 1964 inaugural Airman of the Year program which gathered  the 12 monthly winners and competed them against each other for the end of the year top honors.  Remembering the day as if it were yesterday was, then, Staff Sgt. Robert Dion a medical service technician.

"During the competition we were evaluated on everything from military dress, standards, job performance, current events, and the like," commented Dion. "It makes me laugh because I can specifically remember being asked to 'name the Emperor of Ethiopia.'" (Which happened to be Haile Selassie, and given the U.S-Soviet tensions, a valid question).

Dion impressed the board and went on to become MacDill's first AOY (And yes, he answered the Emperor of Ethiopia question correctly). He contributes his recognition to being in charge of the immunizations clinic, along with being responsible for emergency room duties at the 125 bed on-base hospital.

"Receiving the recognition was a great honor for me and my family, said Dion. "I was extremely proud that I was able to represent the hospital staff and the tremendous job that we did."

Dion's tenure at MacDill was an integral stepping stone for his later accomplishments.

After leaving MacDill, he was assigned to South Korea and received the Commandant's Award during NCO Leadership School.  And shortly after, his final assignment took him to Maxwell Air Force Base where he was voted one of the top ten non-commissioned officers in Air University Command. 

Dion later took the three years of college credit he earned in the service and transferred them to the University of Alabama where he graduated in 1969 with a degree in business.  He credits his military service and education as being "instrumental in obtaining gainful employment."

"During my years in the Air Force, we had a great sense of pride and service to our country--I see the same in the current Air Force," said Dion. "To all Airmen competing in the 50th Airman of the Year competition at MacDill, I say this: Congratulations for exhibiting the talent to get you this far into the competition--regardless of the outcome, you are all winners in your service to our country."