ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --
Airmen join the Air Force for a multitude of different reasons, but don’t generally join the Air Force to win awards or be recognized as the best of the best; good work ethics, attitude and personal drive are what set these Airmen apart. One such Airman is Tech. Sgt. Justin Bennett, 48th Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron flight chief, who was selected as one of the U.S. Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2021.
An Air Force selection board at the Air Force’s Personnel Center considered 36 nominees who represented major commands, direct reporting units, field operating agencies and Headquarters Air Force. The board selected the 12 Airmen based on superior leadership, job performance and personal achievements.
Bennett was born in Queens, New York and lived there for a short time with his family before moving to Orlando, Florida.
“I joined the Air Force for opportunity and a chance to serve my country,” Bennett said. “I grew up in a single-parent household. My father passed away when I was a child and that's when my four sisters, my mom and I all moved to Florida.”
While living in Florida, he joined the Air Force shortly after high school, accepting a job offer as a security forces defender.
”I was brought up by my mother to always leave a place better than when I found it,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference and when I joined, I found a place where I could put everything I learned growing up into practice.”
After gaining experience in his career field, Bennett had been nominated for several awards, most notably being an award for Best Security Forces Support Staff Non-Commissioned officer in the Air Force.
“In only a couple of years he's been a Staff Sergeant, achieved Technical Sergeant on his first try, and now he's a Master Sergeant select,” said Alex Higdon, 48th SFS anti-terrorism officer chief.“ He's the embodiment of success professionally, and he also grows Airmen personally and professionally, by helping them out in terms of their personal life. He's the go to guy if you want to get an answer, and get it quickly.”
Leading up to the moment he was informed that he had been nominated, he had made drastic changes to his daily lifestyle and met the challenge of balancing his work and home life.
“It took a lot of sacrifice and time management to get to where I am now,” Bennett said. “I wake up at 2 a.m. to get in a good workout, then work on my master’s degree before starting my work day and finally going home and allotting time to spend with my family.”
His leadership also noticed his drive and work ethic and it became clear Bennett was destined for greater things.
“He is supremely driven by whatever goal he wants to accomplish,” Higdon said. “He's obtained his master's degree in a little under a year and a half and he's grown professionally. He's become a standout candidate who's not afraid to have candid discussions with leadership, as well as mentor young Airmen confidently. His Airmen come to him if they're seeking mentorship of any kind, at all levels, because they know TSgt Bennett truly cares for them.”
With family being an important part of his resilience, he was surprised by his wife and chain of command as they officially informed he had won the prestigious award.
“I had always dreamed about being one of the 12 outstanding Airmen,” Bennett said. “However I never imagined it actually happening.”
Historically, the 12 OAY holding this position are assigned to a team that travels to different Air Force installations and mentors Airmen, participates in focus groups and assists in changing the Air Force enlisted force structure with the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.
“I think the knowledge from all of the 12 OAY will benefit the Air Force,” said Bennett. “It allows us Airmen on the tactical and operational levels to bring our knowledge and implement change at a strategic level while filling some blind spots our supportive leaders may have towards the process.”
This coming September, Bennett will attend the 75th anniversary of the Air Force Association with the 11 other outstanding Airmen. They will present themselves to the association and meet the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
Humbled by the experience and opportunity, he says he is honored to hold this position and hopes to be an example to other Airmen.
"The advice I’d give to Airmen is don’t let others determine what you’re capable of,” Bennett said. “Throughout your career you will have people bring you up and people that try and set boundaries and limits to what you can do. At the end of the day only you can control your career. If there are points in your journey where you feel down or you can’t do it, just know you can achieve anything you set your mind too and you should strive for whatever goal you set for yourself.”