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NEWS | Aug. 26, 2022

Airmen of the Year Honored for Exceeding the Standard

By Staff Sgt. Sarah McClanahan, Air National Guard

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – The Air National Guard’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year honorees were recognized during Focus on the Force Week Aug. 20-26 in the National Capital Region.

The honorees during this year’s Focus on the Force Week are:

• Airman of the Year: Senior Airman Kristina L. Schneider, 179th Airlift Wing, Ohio National Guard.
• Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Tech. Sgt. Brett A. Yoakum, 164th Airlift Wing, Tennessee National Guard.
• Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Master Sgt. Daniel P. Keller, 124th Fighter Wing, Idaho National Guard.
• First Sergeant of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. Jonathan Sotomayor, 125th Fighter Squadron, Florida National Guard.

Focus on the Force Week is an annual, week-long event hosted by the command chief of the Air National Guard to highlight professional development and honor the achievements of the enlisted corps’ top-performing members.

“These Airmen right here represent the best of the best,” said Chief Master Sgt. Maurice L. Williams, command chief, ANG. “Great moments are earned with opportunities. They took advantage of the opportunities. That’s why they’re here.”

The week began with a tour of the nucleus of our nation’s defense, the Pentagon.

“The Pentagon was very intimidating walking in,” said Schneider, who was also named one of the U.S. Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. “Just the presence of being there with all the important people that run the show. [It was a] very cool experience.”

Throughout the week, the OAY honorees toured historically significant sites in the National Capital Region, including the Air Force Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, where they participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“It’s obviously something that’s very humbling,” said Keller. “Actually, a guy who came up through my training pipeline, he’s buried here in one of these sections. So, this is very hallowed ground. It always has been. … Knowing people that are buried here definitely makes it different.”

Focus on the Force Week culminated with an OAY recognition and award ceremony on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“I am very honored to be standing here representing the Air National Guard,” said Schneider. “Like [I’ve said before], I was just doing my job. But, I feel like doing what I do on the outside as a civilian and being able to do that deployed … represents the National Guard because that’s who we are. We bring a lot from our outside civilian careers into the military.”

Incorporating skills learned from civilian careers is characteristic of the National Guard and empowers multi-capable Airmen to impact the Air Force, regardless of their profession.

“As a first sergeant, you absolutely have the power to shape the Air Force and the Air National Guard,” said Sotomayor. “But, I would even go as far as saying that Airmen have the power to shape the Air National Guard and the Air Force.”

Following the ceremony, the OAY honorees met with former ANG senior leaders during a panel to offer their perspectives on issues impacting Airmen at every level.

“Airmen need to have a seat at the table to see the big picture,” said Yoakum. “Those Airmen need to know what their overall goal is and that every little thing they do is a building block, no matter how small or mundane they think they are or their rank is.”

It’s all about the people — the OAY ceremony is an opportunity to recognize and honor individuals doing outstanding things, added Williams.

“Out of 93,000 [enlisted Airmen in our Air National Guard], these are your top four,” said Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director, Air National Guard. “They came to work every day, not just to maintain their own individual readiness performance level; they took it to the next level.”

These four Airmen not only strived to improve their own organizations, but they also improved the U.S. Air Force, said Loh.

“Something I think about a lot was something that got hammered into us early on in the combat control pipeline was ‘exceeding the standard is the standard,’” said Keller. There’s going to be standards in everything, but that should never be the goal.”

Schneider, Yoakum, Keller and Sotomayor represent the contributions and accomplishments Citizen-Airmen achieve every day across the homeland and global domain.



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