Minnesota guardsman is top graduate at Airman Leadership School

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mavi Smith
  • The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center
A member of the Minnesota Air National Guard was presented the John L. Levitow award for her accomplishments at Airman Leadership School at The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center here, Oct. 29.

Senior Airman Jennifer M. Kuklenski, an intelligence analyst with the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, Minn., was the top graduate of 40 airmen who attended Airman Leadership School Class 09-6.

The John L. Levitow Award is the highest honor awarded a graduate of any Air Force enlisted professional military education course. It is named for Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. John L. Levitow for his actions during the Vietnam War. It is presented to the one student who not only demonstrates academic excellence, but also the outstanding attributes of leadership, enthusiasm, military bearing, and dedication to the spirit and mission of the total Air Force. It is based on objective testing, performance evaluations, demonstrated leadership, and student and instructor points.

"I'm really happy and proud," said Kuklenski. "It felt good to hear my name and get to walk up on the stage and receive it."

"Senior Airman Kuklenski really took on an informal leadership role throughout the course," said Master Sgt. Paul Rayman, her Airman Leadership School instructor. "She stepped forward throughout the course to help her classmates exceed the standards of our academic institution and she, personally, was an outstanding student."

"Her flight really had a hard time on the last formative test," said Rayman. "She spent the entire weekend before her final test dedicating all of her time to helping the other students get to a point where they would be successful, too." 

"That she was willing to sacrifice her own academic progress to help everybody else is enough to make her worthy of this award," added Rayman. "She deserves it."

"Being able to help them was really great," said Kuklenski, who recently graduated from St. Cloud State University with a bachelor's degree in international relations. "It helped me do better, as well." 

"I came to Airman Leadership School because I wanted management and leadership training," said Kuklenski. "It's been tough. It's been stressful. But it's been a great experience and I enjoyed it. I really think (the school) helps people grow as airmen and as individuals."

Kuklenski plans to continue her education. She is pursuing a master's degree in global public policy and hopes to work in the diplomatic or intelligence areas.

Airman Leadership School is a 5-week in-residence course that prepares senior airmen for positions of greater responsibility by providing many of the leadership skills required of supervisors and reporting officials. The course enhances their development by strengthening their ability to lead, follow, and manage while they gain a broader understanding of the military profession.

The 40 airmen of Class 09-6 were from 26 different states and included 33 members of the Air National Guard and seven Air Force Reservists.

The John L. Levitow award is named in honor of Sgt. John L. Levitow, one of only two Air Force enlisted men to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

Levitow received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Feb. 24, 1969. Serving as a loadmaster on an AC-47 gunship over Long Binh, South Vietnam, his aircraft was severely damaged by mortar fire. Suffering from over 40 shrapnel wounds to his back and legs, he saw a smoking magnesium flare amid a pile of spilled ammunition canisters. Despite loss of blood and partial loss of feeling in his right leg, he threw himself on the flare, hugged it close, dragged himself to an open cargo door and hurled the flare out. Almost immediately, the flare ignited harmlessly. Levitow's actions saved the aircraft and the lives of seven crewmembers.