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AFTAC engineer earns Air Force-level accolades

Official photograph of Capt. Douglas E. Thornton, an electrical engineer with the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., and recipient of the 2014 Arthur S. Flemming Award in Basic Science.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Official photograph of Capt. Douglas E. Thornton, an electrical engineer with the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., and recipient of the 2014 Arthur S. Flemming Award in Basic Science. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force Recognition Ribbon was authorized by the Air Force Chief of Staff in 1980 and is awarded to individual Air Force recipients of special awards and trophies.  (U.S. Air Force graphic/AFNEWS)

The Air Force Recognition Ribbon was authorized by the Air Force Chief of Staff in 1980 and is awarded to individual Air Force recipients of special awards and trophies. (U.S. Air Force graphic/AFNEWS)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- An engineer with the Air Force Technical Applications Center here has been named the Air Force's 2014 winner of the Arthur S. Flemming Award for Basic Science.

Capt. Douglas E. Thornton, chief of Space Programs Branch for AFTAC's Operating Location-Technology Coordination (OL-TC), learned of his selection through a message from the commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, Feb. 5, 2015.

The Flemming Award recognizes outstanding federal employees who have made significant contributions in service to the federal government.  Winners are selected from all areas of federal service, and are ultimately recognized by the president of the United States.

There are five categories of the award: Leadership and/or Management; Legal Achievement; Social Science, Clinical Trials and Translational Research; Applied Science and Engineering; and Basic Science.

Thornton, whose undergraduate and graduate degrees are in electrical engineering, directed the development of five radio-frequency sensors which are valued at more than $18 million, and enabled the successful deployment in austere and remote operating conditions.  His systems were put into operation within just two weeks of deployment, collecting the highest fidelity data ever from the intended target of interest.  His system also collected a never-before-seen signal of such high interest that it prevented a technological surprise for the Department of Defense.

In addition to the development of RF sensors, Thornton leads eight classified research and development projects that total more than $46 million for directed-energy weapons, missiles and space situational awareness programs.  He collaborates across the DoD to coordinate concepts of operations and program system requirements.

"I was completely shocked when I learned I was selected as the Air Force winner," said Thornton.  "I didn't think I had a chance at that level, but it is an extremely humbling feeling to be recognized by the caliber of experts who made the decision to select my award package."

The recipient's award submission was reviewed by a panel of Air Force colonels and Senior Executive Service civilians.  As a military nominee, the captain is now authorized to wear the Air Force Recognition Ribbon on his service dress uniform.

"Doug has proven his mettle and level of expertise on a daily basis, and it came as no surprise to us in OL-TC that he won the Flemming Award at the Air Force level," said Lt. Col. James N. Seaward, director OL-TC.  "It is a testament to his hard work, and we have no doubt he will be the national-level winner in the Basic Science category."

A panel of prominent judges and distinguished consultants will recognize the national winners at a ceremony in June in Washington, D.C.

"I want to thank my leadership for putting me in for this award," said Thornton.  They do such a great job of taking care of their subordinates and getting folks recognized for the work they do.  I'm also very appreciative of the love and support I've received from my family and friends.  Without them, I wouldn't be able to pursue my goals in the Air Force."

He added, "This award means a lot to me because it is my passion for science and technology that propelled me into the Air Force.  When I was in college, my ROTC commander told me that if I wanted to work with the most advanced, state-of-the-art technology, I should join the Air Force.  So I did, and I have been so very fortunate to work on numerous technical programs.  Being nominated for the federal level just validates the reason I joined the military."

The award is named after Dr. Arthur Flemming, a career public servant who started his career in 1939 and spent seven decades in service to the federal government and higher education.  In 1994, just two years before his death, President Clinton awarded Flemming with the Medal of Freedom in recognition of his dedication to the nation.