SFS captain wins Lance P. Sijan AFRC Leadership Award

  • Published
  • By Andrew Park
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. – During the Vietnam War, Capt. Lance P. Sijan, an Air Force Academy graduate and combat pilot, ejected from his disabled F-4C Phantom during a bombing mission in Laos. He evaded capture for more than six weeks, during which he experienced many hardships like shock and extreme weight loss from lack of food.

He was eventually captured by the North Vietnamese military, but not without a fight. Even in his weakened state, he was able to overpower one of the guards and make a temporary escape into the jungle before being captured again. At the prison camp, he was severely tortured during intense interrogations, but he refused to divulge any information to his captors.

He remained in captivity until his untimely death on January 22, 1968 when he contracted pneumonia shortly after being transported to the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp in Vietnam.

Nearly a decade later, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in recognition of his extraordinary heroism and courage that went above and beyond the call of duty. In 1991, the Air Force created the Lance P. Sijan USAF Leadership Award to further honor his legacy. 

Capt. Ryan Cheney, 94th Security Forces Squadron operations officer, was awarded the Sijan AFRC award this year in recognition of his exceptional leadership skills, which include managing a squadron of more than 50 security forces Airmen to protect nearly 6,000 base personnel.

“Hearing what the award was about and hearing about Lance P. Sijan and to be a nominee for any award that is dedicated to a leader of that caliber is really something,” said Cheney. “It’s an honor that anyone would look at me in that light.”

Cheney recognizes the unique challenges facing those who are in his charge. Due to the nature of the job, Defenders are required to work around the clock, in any weather, and any schedule, he said. Furthermore, as a newly-minted captain, he’s been a first lieutenant in a job that’s typically filled by a major.

“They’re really sacrificing so much,” Cheney explained. “An eight hour day isn’t an eight hour day for a Defender. It’s typically ten. A twelve hour day is the same. For a lot of them, they’ve already missed out on that time with their family.”

He credits his success as a leader to two things: one, getting to know his Airmen on a personal level, and two, offering them training opportunities to further advance their careers.

“Opportunity is the biggest thing,” Cheney said. “Some of our posts are really challenging, but if we focus on developing our Airmen and give them the opportunity to learn different aspects when we can, I think it’s a huge motivation factor.”

Cheney also finds motivation in leading his Airmen as well.

“They’re a great bunch,” said Cheney. “They’re hardworking and they’re professionals, and they’re in the eye of the entire wing every day. It’s just an honor to be part of that.”

His motivation doesn’t stop there though. He knows that winning the award isn’t the end goal. Rather than being complacent, he continues to strive toward becoming an even better leader for his Defenders.

“This has definitely been a vector check,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m on the right path, but I’ve got a long way to go.”