WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Having joined the Air Force at age 22, Staff Sgt. Valerie Graw brought more life experience than a typical recruit and a considerable work ethic to her career. Her achievements and positive mindset won her the 88th Air Base Wing’s 2020 Airman of the Year honor.
Col. Patrick Miller, 88 ABW commander, and other Wright-Patterson Air Force Base leaders hosted the wing’s 2020 annual awards ceremony virtually through a CVR Teams live event Jan. 19.
Graw, a member of the 88th Communications Squadron who is currently serving as a supervisor of client systems from a deployed location in Southwest Asia, was one of five nominees in her category. She then competed in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s annual awards and won AFLCMC Airman of the Year there. She sewed on staff sergeant’s stripes while deployed.
Highlights of her leadership and job performance are:
- Briefed 10 Pentagon leaders shortly after returning from a previous deployment, highlighting the first-ever Cyber C2 capabilities and a 500-day strategic plan. She is credited with driving the Air Force-wide Cyber Squadron Initiative.
- Managed 25 technical orders and service impacts, protecting the $60.35 billion missions of two commands
- Forged Air Force Materiel Command’s cyber defense mission. For this she has been nominated for the 2020 Air Force Information Dominance and General John P. Jumper Awards and is competing at the Air Force level.
- Resolved 6,400 virtual private network shortfalls to guarantee VPN availability for 35,000 personnel. She also restored critical Cloud services for 25,000 base personnel.
- Modernized operations and improved communications in her work center. Various changes she proposed saved $73,000. Other work she did saved 600 staff hours.
On the personal side, Graw also excelled in Airman Leadership School, where she won the Academic Achievement and Distinguished Graduate awards; led a 9/11 remembrance ruck march; and earned a Community College of the Air Force degree in information systems management – an accomplishment shared by only 2.9% of all enlisted Airmen.
That will not be the only degree she holds. She’s currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity through Purdue Global University.
Graw said she joined the Air Force to be a part of a team and make a difference by serving.
“I saw the opportunity for education and comradery through my grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins that have served in the military,” Graw said. “I’ve always been taught to have a strong drive and dedication to whatever I want to do, and I knew the Air Force would be a chance to flex my skills, grow as a leader, and give back to my country.”
Tech. Sgt. Nicole Turley, Graw’s supervisor at 88 CS, praised her Airman as a “rock star.”
“She just hits it hard; she keeps trying to strive for better and better,” Turley said. “She’s one of those people who give you more faith in today’s Air Force.”
Graw, as with the majority of the 88 CS, was deemed mission essential when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She rose to the occasion, working diligently to prepare VPN capabilities, Turley said.
“She was very, very vital to that being a success for the entire base,” she added. “It makes supervising her really easy.”
Graw said she is honored she was chosen for the award.
“I know I competed against so many different squadrons and talented Airmen,” she said. “2020 was a hard year, but it granted many opportunities to show resilience while ensuring the mission was completed in a timely and effective manner.
“I’d also like to say to all Airmen that what we do everyday matters. We’re all a part of the greatest Air Force in the world and I’m proud to serve with every single person I’ve met through my enlisted career. I’d like to send a huge thanks to all my leadership from the 88th Communications Squadron, the 88th Communications Group and the 88 ABW. They’ve made the last year an absolute victory for everyone.”
The staff sergeant said she likes to work hard so she can see the positive results that come from any issues passing through the Cyber Operations Center.
“I like being able to have a hand in a project as it begins to when it is completed to ensure that it gets done in a timely and correct way,” she added. “It’s very motivating to see a user’s issue get resolved and see the mission continue with little downtime; I get to interact with so many different parts of the base and learn about different missions and how they all tie into our overall Air Force and AFMC missions. Knowing I’m actively making a difference makes it easy to want to work so hard.”
Turley said seeing the pride Graw takes in her work is “really great to watch.”
“She’s told me she wants to become a military training instructor at basic training or a technical school instructor,” Turley added. “She has a really good presence about her, so I think it would be a good experience for Airmen to have her to look up to.”