JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS –
True to its storied history, the 1st Fighter Wing is adding another Air Force first to its legacy of honor and excellence.
Celebrating that heritage, the wing created the inaugural Chief Master Sgt. Claude Vann, Jr., Leadership award. The award honors Vann’s legacy as the wing’s first documented senior enlisted advisor, currently known as command chief, who led through a pivotal time in Air Force history.
“It documents the very best and brightest that we have throughout our enlisted ranks here,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Gradel, 1st FW command chief. “It’s our culminating award because it highlights who we are as enlisted members. It speaks to the great things that we do in this wing which is innovate, excel and go out of the box to get things done.”
Gradel explains that this award is special because it not only highlights the very essence of who the Hampton, Va., native was, but it presents a unique opportunity to recognize current Airmen who mirror his love for the Air Force, innovation and community.
“There’s a lot of awards that people get, but whenever you are able to tie the award to a person that is excellent, I think it makes the award even more profound for the individuals who are receiving it,” said Gradel.
According to wing leadership, the CMSgt Claude Vann Jr. Leadership award represents the most prominent and highly coveted enlisted recognition that can be bestowed upon the ranks of Airman Basic to Senior Master Sergeant. The award will be divided into two categories: the junior enlisted award for members E-1 through E-6, and the senior enlisted award for members E-7 through E-8.
Unlike other annual awards, individuals may be nominated by any supervisor in the nominee’s chain of command.
“Somethingunique we saw in these awards packages were individuals we asked to do their jobs who not only did their jobs in a way that we could be proud of, but actually found a way outside of the box to get things done,” said Gradel. “We allow Airmen to flourish when we give them an opportunity to exceed and the Airmen that we’re talking about have done all of those things and more.”
Those who knew Vann best describe him as a person who could spin a joke and make you laugh, but when it came to pushing the Air Force forward, Vann considered the task serious business.
“Chief Vann was a leader from the time he left his community in Aberdeen Gardens until he died,” said retired Lt. Col. Claude Vann, III and son of the award’s namesake. “He was the kind of person that people flocked to for guidance. He had a people first attitude.”
It’s befitting that the wing announced the award’s creation during Black History Month as Vann was also the first African American aircraft maintenance superintendent.
During his tenure, Vann oversaw the 4th generation fighter F-15’s transition to Langley Air Force Base and his leadership played a significant role in the wing receiving its first ever Air Force Outstanding Unit of the Year award.
Despite his demanding role, Vann still found time to be an advocate for other communities.
“If you go back and look at Chief Vann’s time at the wing, he was actually advocating for women in maintenance which is another underrepresented community in our Air Force,” said Gradel.
Throughout the nomination process, several Airmen displayed Vann’s excellence as barrier breakers in their own right as the wing reviewed submissions.
The Vann family will announce the first recipients of the award during the 1st FW Annual Awards Ceremony slated for Feb. 18, 2022.
“I’m honored that the 1st FW thought enough of him to have an award named after him.” said Vann III. “This will have an impact on all of our family members…to know that one of their descendants did something for the Air Force that was significant enough that he would be remembered in this way.