Outstanding Airmen of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. Megan A. Harper

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 Force Magazine is highlighting one each weekday from now until the conference begins. Today, we honor Senior Master Sgt. Megan A. Harper, a security forces manager for the 701st Munitions Support Squadron at the Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium.

On Aug. 16, 2021, Harper received a call that a C-17 aircraft had been hostilely taken at Hamid Karzai International Airport and was en route to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar with an unknown number of passengers. At the time, Harper was the operations superintendent at Al Udeid, home to the largest expeditionary wing in the Air Force, where she led 372 Total Force defenders in full-spectrum force protection intelligence and base defense operations.

After alerting her commander, Harper initiated a squadron recall to bring off-duty staff and defenders back to prepare for the arrival of the hijacked plane. Roughly 45 minutes later, the C-17’s crew landed securely with the aid of tactical vehicles, and the 47-member team created a human barrier to prevent any of the passengers from breaking through after disembarking the aircraft. Armed passengers were known to be on board, but their emotions and intent were still a mystery.

“They dropped the ladder, and literally the first passenger to come off was a 5-year-old child with her mother,” Harper said. “What we thought was 450 to 620 ended up being 827 passengers.”

Harper explained that in their panic, the evacuees had used weapons merely as a “ticket” to secure passage out of Kabul to Qatar. They had no ill intentions toward the aircraft’s crew or the response team.

Senior Master Sgt. Megan A. Harper, a security forces manager for the 701st Munitions Support Squadron, is one of 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2022. Air Force photo.

Harper’s reaction time and her team’s efficient emergency preparedness helped to secure the C-17’s aircrew and all 827 passengers without further incident. That flight, of course, marked only the first of hundreds of evacuations from Kabul during the next two weeks.

“I think we received an aircraft every three-and-a-half minutes over the course of the next five days,” Harper said.

As the operations superintendent, Harper directed 588 Joint Force protection Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines as they ensured the safe passage of 57,000 Afghan evacuees through Al Udeid.

She was also the recipient of the Distinguished Graduate, Academic Achievement, and Commandant Awards at the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy and established Al Udeid’s first female defender mentorship group. The latter was an especially important organization at Al Udeid, where about 78 percent of the rotation at the time had never been deployed—meaning they had never been to Afghanistan where female culture is so starkly different from the West’s. Harper’s mentorship group provided those defenders with not only guidance, but also cultural training.

The result of her leadership was a cohesive, communicative team at Al Udeid. At the same time, that leadership is a result of her teams.

“I’ve been blessed with just having the absolute best people to stand shoulder to shoulder with,” Harper said. “That’s really what my drive is.”