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AOG member named Region 3 Volunteer of the Year

  • Published
  • By Capt. Susan Penning
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

In a ceremony April 6, Family Readiness volunteer Renee Kotch was named 2018 Region 3 Volunteer of the Year at the 193rd Air Operations Group, State College, Pennsylvania.

Col. Adam Marshall, 193rd Combat Operations Squadron commander, nominated Kotch for the award due to her efforts in providing support and resources to the families of the AOG.

Kotch first identified the need for an AOG-centric family readiness group, then expertly built and ran the group, according to Marshall.

“My goal was to reach out to our military families in a meaningful way that met their needs,” Kotch said. “As military spouses, we recognize how much families are tasked with leading at home while a servicemember is deployed and focused on the mission.”

Kotch used social media to help connect 20-plus geographically-separated spouses spread out over five states, creating synergy and virtualized support during two partial-unit mobilizations in under six months. She also spearheaded the family holiday party that included carnival games, gifts, crafts and snacks for 50-plus children at no cost to the members due to multiple corporate sponsorships and external support from veteran service organizations, according to information from the award nomination.

“We focused on two ‘touchpoints’ throughout the year – Family Day and a holiday party,” Kotch said. “These touchpoints helped build unit morale. When military families see children interacting with other military children, that’s an important connection these kids may not get regularly.”

Kotch also worked hand-in-hand with three squadron commanders to build a pre/during/post-deployment family support plan for deploying servicemembers, which played a key role in preserving morale, according to Marshall.

Kotch and other volunteers sent handwritten notes to the unit’s deployed servicemembers. And Kotch personally reached out to family members with deployed loved ones to stay connected with them and offer support and resources.

Additionally, she identified training and benefit shortfalls during pre-deployment information sessions and personally sought out expert advice and channeled back through the chain of command to ensure members were properly supported.

She also identified and trained key spouses, built high-quality trust relationships with four units, and created a “Deployment Buddy” program, pairing experienced military spouses with first-time or limited-experience military spouses, helping ensure seamless support to deployed personnel and families. And she instituted a quarterly teleconference with the 193rd COS commander, synching volunteer Family Readiness Group efforts with pre-deployment training, which helped improve family communications and ensure a unity of effort, Marshall added.

“Our unit was preparing to deploy when another partial mobilization came down. Were it not for the structure Renee built, our unit may have struggled headed into back-to-back combat deployments. I can't say enough about Renee based on 21-plus years of service including multiple combat tours, multiple states' National Guard assignments, and multiple years of active duty served. She's the best I've ever seen,” said Marshall.

Kotch said she’s grateful for the recognition, but pointed out it was a group effort.

“The military leadership and the spouses who are all involved … I’m excited to share this award with them,” she said.

“There is so much pride within this volunteer community. My advice to servicemembers: Don’t assume your spouse doesn’t want to be involved. Let us take the same passion, pride and patriotism we all share in our hearts and allow us – the family members – to serve, too,” Kotch said.

Kotch also serves professionally as Research Project Manager with the Penn State Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. She and her husband, Lt. Col. Nicholas Kotch, 193rd COS Director of Operations, have two children, 8-year-old Ellyssa and 6-year-old Ben.

Kotch said being part of the Air National Guard and Air Operations Group has changed her family’s life for the better.