The Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2022 will be formally recognized at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference from Sept. 19 to 21 in National Harbor, Md. Air & Space Forces Magazine is highlighting one each weekday from now until the conference begins. Today, we honor Senior Airman Caden A. Soper, an F-15 avionics journeyman for the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 48th Maintenance Group at RAF Lakenheath in England.
Soper was previously assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, where he worked on the Installation Dorm Council. The IDC is tasked with keeping up the morale and quality of life in the dorms at Kadena that housed 194 junior enlisted Airmen—most were between 18 and 24 years old and had never been overseas.
“I know what it’s like to be on your own for the first time. I’m from the middle of nowhere, Kansas,” said the 21-year-old Soper. “So to be on your own for the first time overseas on a subtropical island—it’s hard for a lot of those guys.”
Soper’s efforts with the IDC helped his fellow Airmen at Kadena be comfortable both on and off duty. The IDC organized quarterly barbecues and social events on holidays such as Christmas and Fourth of July to facilitate a feeling of community while deployed in a foreign country. Soper also helped organize monthly beach cleanups, giving the Airmen an opportunity to connect with one another while being good stewards of their local area.
“It’s not just us out here having fun,” Soper said. “We actually had an opportunity to go out and make an impact in the community that we lived in. And that was probably one of the coolest parts about doing that.”
His dedication to the Dorm Council was lauded by the wing’s command chief master sergeant, but Soper said it’s what he would have done anyway. Community participation, whether at home in Kansas or overseas in Okinawa, is something he can’t help.
“I started coaching football when I was 16,” he said. “Getting involved in the community, making an impact on people, I’ve always done that. That’s just what I enjoy.”
In fact, Soper’s commitment to being involved extends to his career field within the Air Force as an F-15 avionics journeyman. In addition to encouraging and inviting his fellow specialists to go on runs with him to improve their physical fitness, Soper was also noted by his leader for going out of his way to mentor and support his team on the diagnostics and repair of the F-15 avionics systems at Kadena. That loyalty is all part of his objective to help his squadron enjoy coming to work while being the best they can be.
“Everybody has different skill sets that they can add to the team so we’re successful,” Soper said. “My main goal while I was there was to make sure that those younger Airmen who came in knew exactly how they could fit into the organization and how to succeed within an organization.”
Soper emphasized that he doesn’t consider the Outstanding Airman of Year award to be an individual award. His involvement with his communities—in Kansas, in Okinawa, and now at Lakenheath—is merely his way of paying forward the time and love people have invested in him over the years. The award “represents the outstanding individuals who I have been blessed to have in my life the past few years,” he said.
“Everybody asks me all the time, ‘Would you say the Air Force changed you?’ And I say absolutely not—the Air Force gave me the opportunity to be the individual I could be,” Soper said. “I don’t believe that I could be the man that I am today if … God [hadn’t] put those things in front me.”
Meet the other Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2022 below:
- Senior Master Sgt. Megan A. Harper
- Master Sgt. Brandon S. Blake
- Master Sgt. Kade N. Forrester
- Tech. Sgt. Brianne E. Kelleher
- Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Messinger
- Tech. Sgt. Jennifer G. Thomas
- Staff Sgt. Steven C. Peters
- Senior Airman DeMarion N. Davis
- Senior Airman Monica Figueroa Santos
- Senior Airman Kristina L. Schneider