Master Sgt. Michael J. Stevens, Military Training Flight chief from the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine here, was announced as one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2017 by the Air Force Personnel Center July 7, 2017.
The annual award recognizes 12 enlisted Airmen across the entire Air Force for exceptional job performance in primary duties, superior leadership and followership, and being the epitome of the Whole Airman Concept.
“It doesn't surprise me that he was selected,” said Maj. Kylie Hester, who served as USAFSAM Squadron Section commander and Master Sgt. Stevens’ supervisor for two years before recently changing duty stations. “Master Sgt. Stevens is a role model and someone that I depended on every day, who lives the Air Force core values and helps lead the next generation of Airmen. It is really awesome that a military training leader was selected because they lead new Airmen at the very start of their career and give them the foundation to succeed. Our team of MTLs at USAFSAM are truly the best and [I] am so proud that the hard work was recognized.”
In fact, Stevens’ leadership team has confirmed that he is the first MTL, first person from the 711th Human Performance Wing, and first person from the Air Force Research Lab ever to win the award, according to Stevens. USAFSAM falls under AFRL and the 711th HPW.
The position of MTL is a unique one. They serve as a bridge from the often rigid, standardized basic training environment to the daily operational Air Force setting while new Airmen learn the technical skills they will practice every day in the field.
Stevens leads some 500 new Airmen annually as they rotate through three Air Force Specialty Code-awarding schools here, overseeing their health, wealth, safety and accountability while providing them a solid foundation to serving in the Air Force. It’s a responsibility that Stevens takes extremely personal.
“[I’m motivated by] knowing every day that I get to come to work to change someone’s life or improve their lives,” said Stevens. “In order to do that, I need to also improve myself, so it’s like simultaneous growth between both parties. I’m a lead-by-example type of guy so in order for me to really give the proper information, the proper mentorship and guidance, I need to also make sure that I am exuding the same [qualities] that I’m speaking about. So, it’s all about providing something with value every single day.”
Providing that value began more than 13 years ago. From humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York to the pinnacle of military recognition, it’s a journey that began with Stevens’ own family.
“I actually joined the Air Force initially to motivate my siblings,” said Stevens. “[I wanted to] show them that [success was possible]. That, since we came from an impoverished area without too much hope, that one of us can step out of that and make something of ourselves. Now, my siblings are doing really well. They all have degrees. They have [great] jobs. All because I took the first step. So, that constantly motivates me.”
Stevens feels he’s just continuing that mission, albeit with different brothers and sisters.
“It’s very similar because I’m doing that [for Airmen now],” Stevens said. “I think that’s kind of my calling. It’s something I’ve really grown to love and be passionate about in motivating and improving someone’s life. So, I kind of started off with [my family] and now it’s come full circle.”
Full circle in more ways than one even. For Assistant Flight Chief Military Training Staff Sgt. Jasmine Archuleta, who works directly for Stevens, his motivation is rubbing off.
“He has such a contagious, infectious charisma about him that I don’t want to let him down and I know the Airmen don’t want to let him down,” Archuleta said. “And, working with these Airmen and seeing how he motivates them. I try to emulate that too. They get so excited about the Air Force, like ‘this is our future, [this is] our Air Force’ and I want to continue to be part of it.’”
An Air Force selection board looked, in part, at the scope and impact of nominees in their primary duties, including how the member developed or improved their skills, and training, both formal and Career Development Courses. Self-development isn’t just an EPR bullet for Stevens, it’s a way of life.
“I hate having fear of doing something,” said Stevens. “So, it’s kind of me pushing Airmen to go outside their comfort zone so they can tap into their true potential. [Once you get] over your maximum fear, [you could find] the best things of your life, the best opportunities. I always try things for growth, to make myself better at whatever aspect I’m trying to pursue.”
Stevens, a consummate world traveler, took conquering that fear to reach his own potential to extremes recently while visiting Brazil and paragliding for the first time.
“The fear of that, on the top of that mountain, and it was so high that, with clouds covering the mountains, you couldn’t even see the ground,” said Stevens. “But, once I took that first step, it was blissful.”
It’s that kind of passion to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk, in all aspects of life that those around Stevens’ have come to appreciate and admire.
“His commitment and drive for success has always been impressive to me,” said Hester. “He is very passionate about his job and is very patient, which is very helpful when counseling young Airmen.”
Archuleta says Stevens is known for his motivational sayings. “Knowledge is the new money, get some,” and “why get ready when you stay ready?” are two she says that seem to strike home with new Airmen. Another, “Don’t let your successes go to your head or your failures go to your heart,” is one Stevens ensures he practices himself.
“Everyone knows that if you’ve won this, you didn’t do it by yourself,” said Stevens. “So, knowing that my MTL team is getting the recognition as well. That they’re able to get the spotlight and enjoy this process at the same time, that means a lot to me as well. “
Stevens had words of wisdom for Airmen looking to achieve their own greatness.
“Decide on what it is you want to do or what it is that you want to achieve,” Stevens said. “And once you do that, commit every fiber in your being to achieving that and conquering that goal.”
The 12 OAY winners are authorized to wear the OAY ribbon with the bronze star service device on the ribbon. They’re also authorized to wear the OAY badge for one year from the date of formal presentation. Winners will attend the 2017 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C. in September and any follow-on meetings of the AFA Enlisted Advisory Council. A total of 36 nominees from Major Commands, direct reporting units, field operating agencies and Headquarters Air Force vied in the competition this year.