148th Firefighter named Air Guard’s best

Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn., stands in front of a medium rescue truck while being interviewed on Nov. 20, 2010. Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes)

Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn., stands in front of a medium rescue truck while being interviewed on Nov. 20, 2010. Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes)

2nd Lt. Jodi Kiminski interviews Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148 Fighter Wing on Nov. 20, 2010. Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes)

2nd Lt. Jodi Kiminski interviews Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148 Fighter Wing on Nov. 20, 2010. Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, stands in front of a medium rescue truck while being interviewed at the Duluth, Minn. Air National Guard base Nov. 20, 2010 . Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes/Released)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Watczak, Assistant Fire Chief of the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, stands in front of a medium rescue truck while being interviewed at the Duluth, Minn. Air National Guard base Nov. 20, 2010 . Watczak, a 20 year veteran of the 148th FW, was recently recognized as Military Fire Fighter of the Year and presented with "The Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sarah C. Hayes/Released)

DULUTH, Minn. -- Master Sgt. Mark W. Watczak is still modest about the high honor he just recently received. But those that work with him say his commitment to excellence and willingness to go above and beyond is just two of the reasons he was named Military Fire Fighter of the Year by the Air National Guard Fire Chief's Association.

"Sgt. Watczak takes the utmost pride in providing the highest quality service to the Duluth Air National Guard," wrote Col. Penny J. Dieryck, 148th Mission Support Group Commander, in the award nomination letter. "Everyday his service to the nation, state, and his community is evident from his commitment to excel in all he does."

A 20 year veteran of the 148th Fighter Wing, Sgt. Watczak's bravery and skill is apparent in all that he does. "The 148th Fire Department consistently excels because of the leadership and guidance of Sgt. Watczak," stated Dieryck.

During the 2009 Operational Readiness Inspections, Sgt. Watczak was recognized as having an "Excellent" command presence and working knowledge of the Incident Command System. He also serves as the 148th Fire Protection's fitness monitor, leading the department by receiving the maximum 100 points on his fitness evaluation and encouraging others, resulting in 25% scoring 90 points or higher and 12% scoring 100.

In addition to his duties at the 148th Fighter Wing, Master Sgt. Watczak serves as a full-time firefighter for the City of Richfield, Minn. Sgt. Watczak was recognized by the City of Richfield Fire Department for his bravery in saving the life of a trapped woman in a burning vehicle. During the Nov. 29, 2009 incident, Sgt. Watczak selflessly entered the burning, smoke filled vehicle, using his body to shield her unconscious body from the flames while freeing her from her seatbelt and rescuing her from the car. Because of his life-saving efforts, Sgt. Watczak was awarded a Meritorious Service Award.

"Being recognized is definitely an honor," said Sgt. Watczak. "But it's not just about me. It's about my crew and about my unit. It's our job and we do the best we can do."