2021 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. SMSgt. Marcus Banks, TSgt. Christopher Bennett, TSgt. Kelli Floyd, SSgt. Valerie Graw, TSgt. Justin Bennett, SSgt. Colleen Mitchell, SrA. Giovanni Pacheco, SSgt. Kristy Riley, SSgt. Alex Sandman, SMSgt. Mark Schneider, SrA. Jamonica Smith, MSgt. Hannah Walters. USAF
Photo Caption & Credits

Outstanding Airmen of the Year

Oct. 7, 2021

The Outstanding Airman Program annually recognizes 12 enlisted members for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement, and personal achievements.

The Air Force Association drove the creation of the Outstanding Airmen of the Year program, which debuted at AFA’s 10th annual convention in 1956. Airmen selected receive the Outstanding Airman of the Year ribbon with bronze service star device; they also wear the Outstanding Airman badge for a full year. This year’s honorees were chosen by a selection board from among nominees advanced by commands in the Air Force and Space Force. 

SMSgt. Mark R. Schneider II

Paving & Construction Senior Enlisted Leader
200th Red Horse Squadron, Camp Perry, Port Clinton, Ohio (ANG)
Home of Record: Temperance, Mich.


SMSgt. Mark Schneider led a 109-member personnel team delivering a $160 million life-support area in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Supervising the foreign operating base build-out, he streamlined the delivery of 17 construction projects, providing beddown for 3,000 personnel and three combatant commands. His knowledge and experience expedited the multi-national acquisition of $3.2 million in project materials, accelerating the $13.1 million project portfolio two months ahead of schedule. He steered the construction of two airfield upgrade projects supporting 49 aircraft valued at $25 billion and spearheaded a NCO leadership course, instructing 37 personnel, amplifying squadron leadership expertise.    

SMSgt. Marcus D. Banks

Installation Management Flight Superintendent 
316th Civil Engineer Squadron (PACAF)
Home of Record: Joint Base Andrews, Md.


SMSgt. Marcus Banks led 162 engineers in the sustainment of 1,000 facilities and Kunsan Air Base, South Korea’s, power projection platform. His actions propelled 6,000 multinational F-16 sorties that helped quell North Korean aggressions. He led a tiger team and developed a strategic plan for 38 dormitories, which resolved 5,000 repairs and 178 emergencies.  His leadership closed five congressional inquiries and upheld the quality of life for 2,800 joint service members. He advanced the wing’s coronavirus defense plan, driving two courses of action and delivering 2,000 restriction of movement rooms. His efforts isolated 1,000 threats with zero base spread and safeguarded 4,200 warfighters. As the unit control center superintendent through four exercises and three typhoons, his team proved the wing’s base and airfield recovery capabilities and restored base operations within seven hours. 

MSgt. Hannah E. Walters 

Operations Superintendent
67th Special Operations Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, U.K. (AFSOC)
Home of Record: Rochester, Ill.


MSgt. Hannah Walters led a 91-member team during a multinational exercise where she showcased United States and partner nation interoperability. Her leadership helped cement NATO alliances and counter adversarial efforts within the European theater. Additionally, Walters orchestrated a remote-area survey and certified one forward area refueling point, two drop zones and eight base facilities, paving the way for European Command (EUCOM) to operate in the Arctic region. She also provided command and control for 24 air and maritime assets during a search and rescue mission. She drove a CV-22 exercise that validated the wing’s afloat forward staging capability, and Walters also excelled academically by completing a bachelor of science degree and the Joint Special Operations University’s enterprise management course, where she earned honor graduate recognition.

TSgt. Kelli A. Floyd 

Infrastructure Section, NCOIC
20th Contracting Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. (ACC)
Home of Record: Loogootee, Ind.


TSgt. Kelli A. Floyd was the sole enlisted unlimited contracting officer in Air Combat Command. She used her expertise to establish the Department of Defense’s first ever micro-grid, a groundbreaking contract worth $24 million and providing 100 percent energy resilience for the 15th Air Force, Air Force Central Command, the 20th Fighter Wing, and all mission partners for the next 20 years.  As noncommissioned officer in charge she led a pandemic support team that sourced personal protective equipment for 7,000 people and established the Air Force’s first contract for protective face coverings, three days before the Department of Defense mandate.  She was short-notice tasked to attend the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, where she led her flight of 15 members through a five-week virtual course and was named distinguished graduate.   

TSgt. Christopher M. Bennett 

Air Traffic Control Instructor
334th Training Squadron (AETC)
Home of Record: Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas


TSgt. Christopher Bennett excelled as a deployed Combat Airspace Manager for a special operations’ detachment in direct support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He fused conventional and special operation tenets while integrating airpower assets into 10 international strike packages. Bennett sterilized tactical airspace for 29 special force raids while developing anti-drone weapon employment safety procedures. Additionally, he secured 3,100 commercial flights through hostile airspace from Turkish and Russian airstrikes.  Bennett’s efforts enabled and enhanced kinetic, nonkinetic, and intelligence collection operations throughout Iraq and Syria, which led to the capture of 14 high-value targets and eliminated 94 enemy combatants. He was awarded the Army Combat Action Badge for his role in the coalition preparation and response to the Iranian missile attack on United States bases in Iraq, culminating in a Bronze Star Medal nomination. He received presidential list honors while working on his advanced degree, completed a second CCAF [Community College of the Air Force] degree in Instructor of Technology and Military Science, and garnered the John L. Levitow award upon graduation from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy.  

TSgt. Justin D. Bennett 

Anti-terrorism Program Manager
Home of Record:  Orlando, Fla. 


TSgt. Justin Bennett superbly managed the United Kingdom’s largest anti-terrorism program by directly contributing to 42 force protection projects valued over $22 million, while being the wing’s focal point for anti-terrorism measures for the Chief of Staff’s initiative of accelerating change through agile combat employment. His actions fused the wing’s first agile combat employment mission with United States allies, enabling 4,700 sorties for USAFE’s largest fighter wing. Bennett’s commitment to excellence, personally and professionally, led to his selection by his peers to be the wing’s 5/6 vice president. He mentored 2,000 peers and piloted six professional development courses while completing 18 credit hours to finalize his master’s degree in Intelligence Studies. He guided three Air Force site-activation task forces by coordinating 54 anti-terrorism security designs to construct a $3 billion F-35 campus for the arrival of EUCOM’s first fifth-generation aircraft, which culminated in his selection as the Air Force’s security forces support staff noncommissioned officer of the year.

SSgt. Kristy L. Riley 

Training Supervisor
924th Maintenance Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (AFRC)
Home of Record: Escondido, Calif.


TSgt. Kristy Riley served as the training supervisor for 189 Total Force munitions Airmen. At the same time, she filled the squadron unit training manager role for two squadrons with 741 personnel, scheduled 656 courses and achieved a 99 percent current rating, the best in a 2,589 member maintenance group. Riley’s ingenuity was instrumental in overcoming a four-month backlog due to coronavirus travel restrictions, during which she taught nine virtual courses and trained seven non-local Air Force reservists on 84 training tasks. She networked four field training detachment missile courses for 24 Airmen, eliminating a six-year certification shortfall, while saving $10,000 in travel costs. Her overhaul of the combat munitions training program, revision of the local explosive safety course, and oversight of the flight’s upgrade program resulted in her being awarded a superior performer and superior team award during the 2020 Air Combat Command unit effectiveness inspection. Riley is credited with saving two civilian lives by coordinating the pulling of a drowning victim and a second failed rescuer to land and administered first aid. 

SSgt. Valerie M. Graw 

Cyber Operations Controller
88th Communications Squadron Cyber Operations Center (AFMC)
Home of Record: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio


SSgt. Valerie Graw led nine personnel and steered cyber operations for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the coronavirus pandemic.  Her team resolved 5,800 network outages and enabled the increase in Air Force virtual private network users from 60,000 to 428,000, which resulted in her selection as Air Force Materiel Command’s 2020 Cyber Systems Airman of the Year. Additionally, as the installation sole maintenance tracking system administrator, she created and managed accounts for 400 users and eight Air National Guard units. Her actions protected $6 million in information technology assets and shielded the Department of Defense’s second-most attacked network. Finally, she earned her CCAF degree in Information Systems Management and graduated Airman Leadership School in the top 10 percent, garnering distinguished graduate and academic achievement awards.  

SSgt. Colleen F. Mitchell 

Aerospace Medical Technician
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AFELM Med DOD (AFDW)
Home of Record: Land O’ Lakes, Fla.


SSgt. Collen Mitchell was the sole aerospace medical technician assigned to Manda Bay, Republic of Kenya, in support of Operation Octave Shield.  She risked her personal safety to assist establishing a casualty collection point during the first ever Al-Shabaab attack on a U.S. military base in Kenya. She activated and led a team of four augmented medical personnel to provide immediate triage and assessment for predicted casualties upon direct impact of 10 confirmed mortar attacks, 38 rocket-propelled grenades, and numerous small arms fire exchange at the camp compound and the airfield. She courageously provided emergent prolonged field care for more than 16 hours, assisting in stabilization of two critical and four acute stress casualties. Mitchell also flawlessly executed Manda Bay’s first walking blood bank, where she pre-screened 12 individuals for stand-by donation.   

SSgt. Alex M. Sandmann 

NCOIC, Electronic Security Systems
Air Force Global Strike Command, Minot Air Force Base, N.D. (AFGSC)
Home of Record: Carrollton, Ga.


SSgt. Alex M. Sandmann leads two Airmen and directs the testing and maintenance of over 7,100 sensors located in the WSA [Weapons Storage Area] and flight line. His team ensures the protection of 89 sectors, 25 B-52 Stratofortress, and 21 facilities valued at $5.5 billion. He organized a fix action for four badging systems by coordinating with six organizations eliminating the need to reissue 3,000 badges. Sandmann’s ingenuity led to the development of three alarm-testing tools that cut average testing time by 50 percent, saving 2,400-man hours annually. He oversaw the installation of a $1.7 million temporary alarm system during the WSA upgrade, cutting posting by 80 percent. He earned his CCAF in criminal justice, was awarded the Airman Leadership School Commandant and Distinguished Graduate Awards, and completed the Electronic Security System Manager’s course, earning his special experience identifier.  

SrA. Jamonica M. Smith 

Raven Team Member
Air Mobility Command, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.  (AMC)
Home of Record: Wadesboro, N.C.


SrA. Jamonica Smith led Raven and fly-away security teams for the deactivation of four forward operating bases in Afghanistan, contributing to the United States and Taliban peace treaty. She conducted a humanitarian mission in support of the United States Agency for International Development where she ensured the safe delivery of 370,000 pounds of coronavirus equipment and medicine, improving the quality of life for Yemeni’s locals. While deployed, she directed 34 special operations and aircrew members during a ground attack in Forward Operating Base Shank. Her fearlessness enabled a combat evacuation, protecting numerous lives and $167 million in Department of Defense assets. She also volunteered countless hours as a domestic violence response team member where she staffed crisis support lines for more than 80 hours and instructed five training seminars in efforts to mitigate the impacts of abuse in the local community. 

SrA. Giovanni Pacheco 

Career Development Journeyman
50th Force Support Squadron, Schriever Air Force Base, Colo. (Airmen support of USSF)
Home of Record: Chicago


SrA. Giovanni Pacheco led a three-member team to ensure 1,800 personnel actions were completed on time. Additionally, he directed 30 permanent change of stations amid a global pandemic, ensuring mission critical personnel arrived at their next station. Airman Pacheco’s expertise led him to drive the first-ever virtual Enlisted Forced Distribution Panel with 138 eligible members and 23 allocations. He also revamped the wing’s Duty Status FAM, which certified 64 POCs enabling satisfactory program health. Pacheco energized professional development courses and instructed in-house training to 135 Airmen across the installation. Senior Airman Pacheco was chosen for the Air Force Cycling Team to support the Air Force’s “We Are All Recruiters” program in the Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa with an attendance of 15,000 members, during which he completed 510 miles.