Meet Grissom’s Enlisted Annual Award Winners for 2023

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Morris

During the February unit training assembly, the Hoosier Wing participated in a number of events and ceremonies. Between a change of command that welcomed Col. Van Thai as the wing commander and a base visit by Fourth Air Force’s command team, the Public Affairs team at Grissom wanted to ensure that one celebration that took place during the weekend did not go overlooked or forgotten: the unveiling of this year’s wing-level annual award recipients.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the Public Affairs team will produce and release a series of articles highlighting the eight men and women who received wing-level awards during this year’s ceremony. The first, below, highlights the enlisted-level winners in the Airman, noncommissioned officer, senior noncommissioned officer and first sergeant categories.

434th Airman of the Year
Senior Airman Cayl Garland, 434th Maintenance Squadron crew chief

Garland was nominated by his unit commander, Maj. Nathan Lowman, as a result of his Airmanship and all-around character. Over the course of 2023, he executed 176 alert days, supported 6 TDYs, accumulated 45 flying hours with zero discrepancies and earned a 100% pass rate on supervisor evaluations, proving himself to be an invaluable resource to the Air Force.

“Senior Airman Garland performed well beyond his years as a key contributor during the last two Worthy Phoenix exercises and the generation of wing aircraft,” said Lowman. “His drive to grow is contagious among his peers and ensures his continued success.”

When he’s not fixing aircraft, he’s hitting the books. Garland has nearly completed his bachelor's in mechanical engineering technology with a 3.5 GPA.

434th Noncommissioned Officer of the Year
Tech. Sgt. Kirsten Harrington, 434th Maintenance Squadron aircraft integrated avionics craftsman

Harrington overcame several challenges throughout the year, including the launch of the regional periodic inspection program. She also played a critical role in sustaining airpower during the base’s runway restoration project, stepping up for 70 days to serve as the avionics noncommissioned officer in charge while at Fort Wayne.

In addition to helping make the mission happen, she also found time to take care of her Airmen. After learning that one of her trainees’ was facing financial hardship due to the length of their tech school, she did some digging and found they had already met some of the school’s requirements, thus cutting his course time in half and saving him – and the Air Force – money.

When she’s not in uniform, Harrington can be found giving back to her communities.

“She volunteered her time to mentor eight children over 12 weekends, teaching equestrian skills and instilling the lesson of responsibility in young people” said Lowman.

Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year
Master Sgt. Jordi Saunders, Development and Training Flight NCOIC

Saunders took on the task of preparing Grissom’s newest trainees for the Air Force and created one of the top-three honor graduate producing programs in the Air Force Reserve Command, maintaining a 98% basic training graduation rate. Saunders created initiatives within recruit training that have now been implemented within four training flights across the command.

When he wasn’t molding the next generation of Airmen, he was serving as a supervisor to the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, where he devoted 284 hours responding to local disasters. Since receiving the award, Saunders has since returned to his role in the 49th Aerial Port Squadron as the load planning noncommissioned officer in charge.

First Sergeant of the Year
Senior Master Sgt. Christa Leach, 434th Civil Engineer Squadron first sergeant

Leach stepped up when the Air Force needed her by filling not one but two short notice taskings, for both Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Enduring Sentinel, where guided 584 engineers across 94 specialist codes. Between the two, she fielded 21 Red Cross messages and procured approximately $57,000-worth of airfare to get Airmen home within 24 hours of initial notification.

In addition to her first sergeant duties, she offered mentorship to the Al Udeid Air Base First Four Council, served as the First Sergeant Council Treasurer and facilitated the Additional Duty First Sergeant Symposium – all while deployed.