Local retired Air Force colonel wins lifetime achievement award
Retired colonel and Alaska Veterans Museum executive director Suellyn Wright Novak was recently awarded the Armed Services Blood Program Lifetime Achievement Award at the Defense Health Agency headquarters in Falls Church, Va.
Also awarded was retired captain Bruce Rutherford, a Navy compatriot of Novak’s during Operation Desert Storm.
The award consists of a certificate signed by three service surgeons generals plus a medal on a purple ribbon, to denote that even though all three services have separate blood programs, they all feed into the Armed Services Blood Program.
The blood program is considered a “purple” office, with all branches working together.
The nomination and certificate honored Novak’s many contributions to the blood program, along with her 32 years of leadership.
Novak remains the longest serving chief of the Air Force Blood Program (6 plus years) and was in position during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Under her leadership, the small Air Force Blood Program of only 27 donor centers pumped more blood into theater than the much larger Navy and Army blood programs.
Novak attributes this feat to the caliber of her junior officers and enlisted personnel.
The proudest moment of her life, she said, was when presenting them with Air Force Blood Program caps for their service.
The second proudest was building the frozen blood program for the Republic of Korea. The prepositioned frozen blood was then placed near areas of need. All of this was made possible through another of Novak’s project, the Transportable Blood Transshipment Center.
As senior laboratory and blood program consultant for all of the Pacific theater from 1993-1997, Novak’s inspection tours were often termed “legendary,” as was her mentorship of junior personnel.
Novak served as squadron commander for three different medical squadrons at two bases. She also assisted at the Armed Services Blood Program office by documenting the history of the blood programs, standardizing blood activities across the services, training for disaster response and researching new technologies to care for the wounded.
Since retiring from active duty Novak has remained a prominent leader in her community by serving fellow veterans through her appointment to the Veterans Advisory Council and several roles in her local VFW Post 9785.
In 2010 Novak received the First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Award and in 2012, The Alaska Governor’s Veterans Advocacy Award. Novak is also active in the Eagle River Presbyterian Church.