ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Four Service members were recognized as "Missile Defenders of the Year" during a ceremony at the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance's annual gala Jan. 11 in Alexandria, Va.

The award recognizes and honors the contributions of members of the military who man fully operational deployed missile defense systems. The award recognizes members of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Army National Guard who best exhibit leadership, personal effort, and demonstrate a commitment to excellence in missile defense and their critical role in defending the homeland.

This year's recipients are: Sgt. Aric Wilkins, Army National Guard, Capt. Kyle Kirkpatrick, U.S. Army, Capt. Gregory Tengco, US Air Force, and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Ronald Barbee.

The single-day event included an extensive tours of Mount Vernon and the tomb of George Washington, a reception with members of MDAA, and an award dinner.

"It was a very humbling experience," remarked Wilkins. "I was simply overwhelmed by the award itself and the level of appreciation I received for doing just doing my job. To be honored like this was one of the best experiences I have had in my military career."

"The sincerity, heartfelt passion, awe of appreciation, self humility, and love of missile defense was on full display," said Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of MDAA. "These four select individuals represent the best in leadership and personal effort. They are an inspiration to their subordinates, peers, and superiors."

As the name implies, MDAA is an advocacy organization focused on missile defense. They educate the American public about missile defense issues as well as recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. They are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization.