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Two AFMC Airmen chosen as “Best of the Best”

  • Published
  • By Michele Donaldson
  • Air Force Materiel Command

Two Air Force Materiel Command Airmen are representing the command as Air Force 2023 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

The highly-coveted OAY award recognizes exceptional personnel for their superior leadership, job performance, community involvement and personal achievements.

Senior Master Sgt. Justin S. Cruz is an Operations Flight Superintendent at the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron, Space Base Delta 1, Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.

Cruz says his latest assignment with the Space Force has opened his eyes to what’s possible.

“In the Air Force we see the airfields and planes taking off every day. In the Space Force, the mission is mostly unseen,” he said. “It’s important to keep our Airmen aware of their part in the mission, even when they may not see the outcome.”

Cruz, an Arkansas native, joined the Air Force in 2006. Like many others, he decided to enlist for a few years to help pay for college loans.

“Seventeen years later, here I am,” said Cruz. “I came in for myself, but as I gained responsibility and skills, I stayed for the Airmen around me.”

Cruz says his favorite assignment so far was as an instructor and recommends that everyone serve in that capacity if they can.

“That was the turning point for me as I learned so much from those I was training,” said Cruz.  “They asked questions I had never thought of and made me even better at my job.”

Cruz has excelled at his job. He drove a $3 million project to field the first Air Force-owned "Coyote" weapon system, and he also created an innovative solution for a corrosion control issue for the Command's sole Battle Airborne Communications Node aircraft.

Tech. Sgt. Micaela R. Mahan was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Military Justice for the 78th Air Base Wing, Robins AFB, Georgia – the fourth largest legal office in the Air Force, at the time of her award.

No stranger to military moves, Mahan is the child of an Army veteran and a German mother. She served in the Junior ROTC and always had a military career in the back of her mind.

While attending college and working two jobs, Mahan needed stability. She enlisted in 2014 as a security forces personnel. After two assignments, she decided to cross-train into her current career as a paralegal.

“Retraining refreshed my desire to stay,” said Mahan. “I love mentoring Airmen, and my job gives me the opportunity to do that.”

Now stationed at Osan Air Base, Korea, Mahan sees even more clearly how important her work is to the mission.

“Working in military justice, we help commanders and First Sergeants to provide order and discipline,” she said. “We are able to help them navigate personnel issues and get the unit and the Airman on the right track.”

Mahan received her bachelor’s degree in investigative forensics and will soon pin on the rank of master sergeant.

“I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I know there are lots of opportunities to consider,” she said.

Both Cruz and Mahan will be honored at an Air Force Association banquet in September. They and the ten other honorees are now authorized to wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year” ribbon, with the bronze service star device on the ribbon. They are also authorized to wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year” badge for one year.

“I didn’t get here by myself,” said Cruz, “None of us did. We are all supported by our families, our teammates and leaders. I feel like my win was a win for all of us.”

The Air Force Association drove the creation of the Outstanding Airmen of the Year program, which debuted at AFAs 10th annual convention in 1956. This years honorees were chosen by a selection board from among nominees advanced by commands in the Air Force and Space Force.