SMC’s Capt. Vowell wins USSF level 2020 Colonel James Jabara Airmanship Award

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  • By SMC Public Affairs

Capt. Benjamin Vowell from Space and Missile Systems Center Special Programs has been awarded the US Space Force 2020 Colonel James Jabara Airmanship Award as the top nominee, a first under the newly established United States Space Force. 

According to it's website, the Colonel James Jabara Airmanship Award was first established on Jan. 5, 1967 and awarded in 1968. It was established by the family of Col. James Jabara, who was the first American jet “Ace” in the Air Force during the Korean War, in conjunction with the Air Force Academy and the Association of Graduates. The award is given by the Air Force Academy and recognizes an Air Force academy graduate’s significant contribution to Airmanship. 

Each year, a unit can nominate one candidate for the award based on the nominee’s distinguished accomplishments and exceptional contributions with respect to design, production or testing of an aerospace vehicle or its subsystems. One nominee is selected from across major commands, field-operating agencies, including the Air National Guard and Reserve and direct reporting units from across the Air Force. 

 “I was very humbled and surprised to hear that I received the award at the USSF level and the nomination to compete at the Air Force level. I remember walking the halls of the Air Force Academy and seeing memorials and dedications to some of the people who had previously won this award,” said Capt. Vowell. “Now, I’m potentially one of those names and it makes me feel proud, but it is also surreal.” 

Capt. Vowell serves as a ground segment lead and deputy program manager for a risk reduction effort to deliver a classified $6B Secretary of Defense priority system.  During this effort, he led a 390-member team and executed four major contracts totaling $88M. His team beat a 12-month acceleration challenge to re-plan a $300M+ project, issued by Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. This resulted in readying warfighter capability 20 months earlier than the traditional baseline.  During this time, Capt. Vowell also guided a 570-member team onto a single cyber strategy, averting an 18-month program delay. This team included members from the space industry, Air Force and National Security Agency. 

From Greenfield, Indiana, Capt. Vowell, graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2014. He first worked flight test efforts at Hanscom Air Force Base before being assigned to SMC’s Special Program Directorate in 2017. He said he could not have done it alone and appreciates his team’s efforts and the challenges they overcame to an exciting and valuable experience. 

“I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a high achieving and supportive team. The team has been able to achieve amazing milestones because it is composed of incredible professionals,” said Vowell.   

In addition to his ground segment lead and deputy program manager duties, Capt. Vowell successfully managed an orbital analysis by government partners and the space industry to deliver an optimized ground segment.  He and his team are on track to award a major contract much faster than any other space program in the history of the Space and Missile Systems Center. His team secured Secretary of the Air Force approval and shaved one year off a global satellite communication terminal installation schedule.

“Together with his capable teams, Capt. Vowell achieved astonishing results.  He is well-deserving of this prestigious honor and the entire Special Programs Directorate is proud of his accomplishments,” said Lani Smith, Special Programs Directorate deputy director. 

Capt. Vowell will be among many nominees from around the Air Force competing at the Air Force level for this prestigious award. Results are projected to be announced towards the end of this year.  


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