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Today’s Air Commandos Celebrate Tomorrow’s Legends

CLOVIS, N.M. —  

Today’s Air Commandos…tomorrow’s legends was the theme throughout the week when the Air Force Special Operations Command Outstanding Airmen of the Year were brought to Cannon AFB, N.M., for two days of professional development, recognition and celebration at the annual OAY banquet held at the Clovis Civic Center, June 8, 2023.

“As America’s Air Commandos, we truly do stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC commander, during his speech to the audience of more than 300. “We are each cut from the cloth from those who have come before us, and that’s something to be truly proud of.”

The Outstanding Airmen of the Year were nominated by their leadership and selected by board members based on their exceptional job performance, superior leadership and followership, and the epitome of the whole airman concept. The Airman, Non-commissioned Officer and Senior NCO now compete at the Air Force level-OAY competition. The first sergeant, base honor guard and honor guard manager also move on to compete for Air Force-level awards.

“The mindset of an Air Commando is not built around one specialty code,” the general said. “It runs in the blood of each of us. It pushes us forward to break boundaries and to exceed expectations. Tonight, these winners truly epitomize what it means to be an Air Commando.”

The general went on to thank the winners for their sacrifices and ensured the audience knew “Air Commandos are absolutely our competitive advantage… in every future conflict. And it is clear we are America’s Air Commandos; ready to fight tonight and pathfinding for tomorrow.”

The 2022 AFSOC Airmen of the Year are:

SSgt Emilee S. Underwood, 492d Special Operations Support Squadron, Duke Field, Fla.

Underwood served as an intelligence analyst in support of Pacific Eagle, backing five aircraft and 297 combat flying hours for Special Operations Command-Pacific’s number one counterterrorism priority. She deployed as the sole intelligence support for the Joint Special Operations Air Detachment-Singapore where she led 22 mission threat briefings, mitigating the risk of three C-146 aircraft and protecting 35 crew members for 431 sorties across 52 airfields. She also managed two major programs where she served as the vehicle control officer to oversee 120 inspection items while also providing quality assurance and preservation of 50 deployed communication assets worth $150,000.

Non-commissioned Officer
TSgt Kimberly R. Mastrocola, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Mastrocola served as non-commissioned officer in charge of Project Integration for the Wing’s Innovation Cell. She was by-name requested as lead project officer for the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Bravo Hackathon series in addition to leading a liaison fellowship with the Air Force Installation Mission Support Center. She piloted 11 wing-level projects impacting 3,000 Airmen while also overseeing the planning of three Hackathon events that showcased 1,300 members across every branch of service. Mastrocola also led a non-profit STEM program for 10,000 students, facilitating 60 events and instructing 31 courses. Her dedication as a community partner culminated in the award of 41 educational youth grants valued at $161 million.

Senior Non-commissioned Officer
Master Sergeant Jerry M. Scott, 33d Special Operations Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Scott served as the senior enlisted leader of the 1st Special Operations Support Squadronduring a five-month manning shortage of senior non-commissioned officers. Steering the command’s pivot to integrated deterrence and global power competition, he conquered a historical unit growth of 45 percent to create the Air Force’s largest OSS consisting of 503 Airmen from 75 career fields. He also oversaw 110 deployments embedding combat support into 204 exercises across five geographical areas and onboarded 154 Mission Sustainment Team members to lead agile combat employment efforts. His experience flying five aircraft across three major commands immersed him with tactical, operational and strategic-level experience.

First Sergeant
SMSgt Garrett A. Hetzel, 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom

As the first sergeant, Hetzel shaped standards for 496 Airmen across and enabled 5,800 flight hours across three areas of responsibility which led to the maintenance group’s first MAJCOM-level Maintenance Effectiveness Award. He also authored a first sergeant management guidebook to assist U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Command Chiefs in leading first sergeants. His efforts delivered a boots-on-the-ground perspective in direct support of 35,000 warfighters and their families. He also drove Air Force Southern Command’s initiative to educate the Colombian Air Force on benefits of the First Sergeant. He provided the baseline for a three-day course consisting of 100 senior enlisted leaders.

Base Honor Guard Member
SrA Asawna A. Thomas, 727th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Thomas developed 18 Honor Guard members through instruction on 60 standing manuals necessary in the execution of colors and final military funeral honors maneuvers. She pushed two training flights and molded 10 Airmen into elite base honor guardsmen through 855 detail man hours which spanned over 15,000 miles. She was hand-selected to be a pallbearer for Cannon Air Force Base’s first active-duty send-off resulting in establishment of a new wing standard. Her dedication to the community was evident in her 15 hours of service feeding the less fortunate with her church, preserving four lives by dedicating 50 hours to the Airmen Against Drunk Driving program and volunteering at an assisted living facility which created community cohesion and showcased the Base Honor Guard.

Base Honor Guard Member Program Manager
TSgt Jorge Ochoa, 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

As program manager for Hurlburt Field’s Base Honor Guard, Ochoa led the command’s largest Honor Guard program by guiding 87 Airmen with six elements and overseeing the execution of 2,100 training hours. His efforts delivered 334 military funeral honors across two states and 20 counties. He synchronized Honor Guard and Airmen Leadership School personnel to establish and solidify ceremony sequences and events that resulted in five classes graduating 434 members and the presentation of 55 awards for 22 units. As a mentor, he fostered leadership qualities in his Airmen that empowered his team to train tenant wing personnel and enabled 13 retirement ceremonies and 284 years of service being honored. He was recognized by the community for his work with Junior ROTC students.

Company Grade Officer
Captain Seamus G. Feeley, Detachment 2, 24th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Fla.

Feeley served as Mission Commander, Combat Aviation Advisor & Chief of Intelligence when he led 17 advisors on a critical mission to Eastern Europe in an effort to increase unconventional warfare capabilities. He directed the administration of the Air Force’s only Irregular Warfare group where he managed 423 Airmen across four squadrons and earned 17 MAJCOM awards. He also led the first integration of Estonian Special Operations Forces into three multinational exercises, resulting in 26 sorties and the promotion of allied joint civil military activities and Secretary of Defense strategic objectives. He also oversaw a $940,000 communications node, sustaining four secure networks, 25 multiband radios and 15 classified systems without degradation.

Individual Reservist Officer
Major Caesar X. Baldemor, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

Baldemor served as the Defense Force Flight Commander at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, where he led 47 defenders charged with airfield defense. He planned and executed 16 base-wide exercises for 89 quick-reaction force personnel from multiple services. His rehearsals were tested when his team responded to multiple hostile fire events resulting in detecting and deterring enemy ground attacks to the base and zero interruptions to airfield operations. On only his fifth day in country, he led his flight through two complex attacks to the air base. His expedient actions established a southern facing perimeter and thwarted enemy ground efforts. His team’s robust security operations vetted 5.6 million gallons of water and fuel, and 100 tons of food for critical life support of 2,800 base personnel and $3.3 million in airfield infrastructure upgrades.

Civilian Category One
Jennifer L. Post, 1st Special Operations Medical Group, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Serving as a pharmacy supply custodian, Post managed 232 contracts and a $5 million budget to supply 162,000 life-saving medications for 71,000 patients. She developed and implemented several process improvements that saved 1,000 labor hours and reduced patient wait times by 27 percent. Her attention to detail recouped $541,000 and earned the unit a Defense Health Agency Market’s best contract compliance score. She also powered a highly visible Special Operations Forces Generation tasker quickly staging 450,000 deployment medication kits in support of two combatant commands ensuring 378 deployers were ready and cementing her unit’s recognition as Air Force Special Operations Command’s Surgeon General Clinic of the Year.

Civilian Category Two
Jana L. Brown, 23rd Special Operations Weather Squadron, AFSOC Operations Center, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

As a Supervisory Lead Meteorological Technician, Brown led a global operations team of 27 forecasters in creation of 2,500 products supporting 21,000 flight hours. She identified and corrected a weather forecast briefing deficiency by creating five scenario-based training requirements to enhance certification and qualification standards, reducing errors by 25 percent. In response to a commander priority, she led her section in creating four environmental intelligence training packages that aligned the technical capability of the unit with the National Defense Security Strategy for maritime, arctic, space and tropical forecasting. She also incorporated lessons learned from a leadership course into the squadron’s resiliency day training, promoting team building and unit cohesion.

Civilian Category Three
David Saugstad, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Saugstand served as a structures foreman and maintenance mechanic supervisor when he led four elements of 28 military and three civilian personnel in the completion of more than 2,000 projects val. His team completed 2,000 repairs in support of 1,000 facilities and 77 Special Operations aircraft. When faced with a 25 percent manning reduction, he established a $124,000 gutter repair contract which diverted 1,500 hours of preventative maintenance and uncovered 159 at risk facilities. He also pioneered AFSOC’s small unmanned aircraft system inspection program by analyzing 377 buildings to capture 1,500 data points and preserving $1.5 billion in roof systems. Readying the force for the future, he steered a $448,000 contingency training project and focused the efforts of 22 engineers in the construction of a 2,400 square foot Resiliency Center which enhanced 281 mission-ready Airman’s skills and morale.

Civilian Category Four
Sharon A. Brewer, 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Serving as the Flight Chief and Child Development Specialist in the Child and Youth Services Flight, she led 191 civilians, five child development operations and 14 licensed providers to cut wait lists by two months and uphold daily childcare needs for 605 personnel and saving $45,000 through Air Force subsidy. She was hand selected to lead 16 subject matter experts in development of service and program strategies, impacting 72 youth programs and improving quality of life for 265,000 children Air Force wide. Teaming with Florida’s Early Learning Coalition, she amplified six Child Development Programs and received $63,000 and increased grants by 25 percent with a volunteer pre-Kindergarten program. Her efforts resolved childcare needs for 523 families and surpassed national standards by 130 percent.

Air & Space Force Key Spouse
Lina M. Arenas 752d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom

Arenas was critical to the success of 235 Airmen and their families as part of a high-demand, rapidly deployable unit, supporting 13 deployments. She provided food and clothing packages for deployment teams and led the creation and distribution of seven newborn care packages enhancing quality of life for impacted members. While attending the annual key spouse symposium, she briefed 96 leaders on the communication limitations between leadership and tri-base area spouses. Her dedication to resolving issues positively impacted families across four wings and their surrounding communities. She also leveraged her emergency management expertise to impart disaster action knowledge in support of a first-of-its-kind, dual-wing crash recovery exercise, readying the installation for crisis response actions.
*It was announced at the banquet that Arenas was also selected as the 2022 Air Force Key Spouse of the Year Award winner.

CMSgt. Anthony Green, AFSOC command chief, closed out the evening by thanking all the supervisors, leaders, families, friends and community members for “pouring into our award winners and supporting them each and every single day to make us the best version of ourselves.”

By Dawn Hart

Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

3 Responses to “Today’s Air Commandos Celebrate Tomorrow’s Legends”

  1. Joey Johnson says:

    I read on Fox News the other day. (It maybe false information). That the Air Force is getting rid of the A10’s and that the TACP job is getting cut by a bunch! Here’s what should happen. If it’s true, the army should take the A10’s and take the TACP job and just make it for fisters to go thru. We already have JFO courses that were required for me when I went thru FO school at Bragg or whatever it is called now. I thought that was smart. So when I went back to my unit after I had the skill identifier along with being qualified.

  2. ted lipschitz says:

    no operators? hmmm