KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Air Force officials recently narrowed down 36 nominees to 12 and announced their selection for Outstanding Airmen of the Year. Among those 12 was Keelser Air Force Base’s Tech. Sgt. Cassandra Cruz, 81st Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School instructor.
This award recognizes 12 outstanding enlisted personnel for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement and personal achievements. The program was initiated at the Air Force Association's 10th Annual National Conference in 1956. Now, the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, a general officer and selected major command command chief master sergeants form the selection board. The 12 Outstanding Airmen are awarded the Outstanding Airman ribbon with the bronze service star device and wear the Outstanding Airman badge for one year.
In June, Cruz was one of nine Airmen announced as Air Education and Training Command’s Outstanding Airmen of the Year. “The winners are AETC’s finest and each one plays a role in our mission to recruit, train and educate.” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, AETC commander.
After hearing Cruz won at Air Force level, Roberson sent out a congratulatory message. In that message he wrote, “I’m proud to serve with dedicated men and women like Tech. Sgt. Cruz, who work hard every day to create a better future for our Air Force through the development of America’s Airmen.”
Cruz said she found out in a tricky manner that she was selected as an OAY.
“I was sort of tricked,” she said. “I was told I needed to go to wing (headquarters) for an interview about the AETC-level Outstanding Airmen of the Year award. When I got there (Roberson) and (Chief Master Sgt. David Staton, AETC command chief) were on the phone and they told me I’d been selected.
Receiving such big news produced many emotions for Cruz.
She said, “I felt a lot of emotions - a little overwhelmed, excited, proud, but mostly grateful.”
Grateful because she said so many people helped her get to this point.
“A lot of people from the 81st FSS, 81st Mission Support Group, 81st Training Wing, 2nd Air Force and the AETC command staff put in a lot of time and effort guiding me through each level to this point.”
Cruz wanted to thank a few of those people who have helped her become the Airman she is today.
“I am thankful for my family and coworkers who enable me to accomplish so much. I am also grateful for my mentors; Capt. Damian Pardue, Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Kahapea, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Wood, retired Chief Master Sgt. Charles Teston, retired Senior Master Sgt. Stefan Kelly and countless other people who have set the example for me and who motivate me to try harder and do more to benefit the Air Force and Airmen.”
Cruz views herself as a regular Airman and is thankful for the opportunity to represent the enlisted force.
“This experience has been extremely humbling,” she said. “I see myself the same as any other Airman just trying to do a good job. All of our Airmen bust their butts daily to make the mission happen which is why I feel so honored and privileged to represent them as one of the 12 OAY.
As one of the Air Force’s 12 OAY, Cruz will spend the next year serving as a member of the Air Force Association Enlisted Advisory Council. As members of this council, she will attend subsequent meetings at the call of the council chairman to promote the Air Force way of life.