AF MTI named Military Times Airman of the Year

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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — A 326th Training Squadron military training instructor facilitator has been selected as the Military Times 2017 Airman of the Year for her exceptional service over the course of a 15-year Air Force career.

Tech. Sgt. Megan Harper, who became an MTI in March 2013 and Airmen’s Week facilitator in August 2016, received her honor July 12, 2017, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“She does so much for our unit,” said Maj. Christopher Sweeney, the 326th TRS assistant director of operations. “Everything she does, she gives it her all. On her breaks from instructing, she comes down to her desk and continues working on her additional duties.”

As a facilitator, Harper’s job is to facilitate classes during Airmen’s Week, a transitionary character development period between basic military training and technical school when Airmen have the opportunity to apply and internalize the Air Force creed and core values taught during BMT.

She is the NCO mentor to new Airmen, Sweeney said. Her job is to motivate the Airmen and help them internalize the reasons behind their service.

In addition to her regular job as an interim instructor supervisor, Harper has two major additional duties within the unit. She is also a backup instructor, a role typically filled by a master sergeant.

Originally Harper’s leadership submitted an award package for the 37th Training Wing NCO of the Year, but she wasn’t selected. Sweeney felt so passionately Harper deserved recognition for all she does, he approached some of Harper’s former supervisors and other wingmen around base and they all agreed to send in a nomination package to the Military Times on Harper’s behalf. In total, at least eight different packages were submitted for Harper.

“This has been an incredible honor and such a humbling experience,” Harper said. “In the last 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve with the Air Force’s best of the best and it’s been an honor to be recognized among them.”

One of the reasons Sweeney feels Harper is deserving of recognition is for the day her heroic actions saved a choking trainee and a woman who had been hit by a car.

While in the dining facility, Harper saw a trainee who was choking on food. After taking the appropriate precautions, Harper performed the Heimlich maneuver on the trainee and dislodged the food stuck in his throat. About an hour and a half later, Harper was leaving the installation and saw a group of people surrounding a woman who had been hit by a car which had fled the scene. Harper and two other Airmen were able to treat the woman for shock and stabilize her until an ambulance arrived.

“The military definitely prepared me to be able to deliver basic life-saving skills and how to respond to the situation I found myself in that day,” Harper said. “I was Security Forces for the first 12 years of my Air Force career and we receive amazing training in basic first aid and emergency response. Additionally, as an MTI, I have been given further training in the event a trainee is in distress and needs help.”

Harper was inspired to join the Air Force as a security forces Airman after the Sept. 11 attacks and has deployed five times to Iraq, Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan. She is also one of only nine women to complete the elite security forces’ Phoenix Raven program, which trains Airmen to provide security for aircraft operating in high terrorist and criminal threat areas.

Harper has some advice for the Air Force’s newest Airmen.

“Be hungry for success, but stay humble so you can overcome challenges,” Harper said. “When the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s important to remember to take time to tend your own lawn. Your success is based not only on the situations you encounter but your reactions to those situations.”

Harper’s enthusiasm is contagious in the unit, Sweeney said. She boosts morale by motivating the Airmen and coordinating team-building activities that incorporate fitness and volunteer work, two areas for which she is passionate.

“There is not a single Airman who doesn’t have a friend or mentor in Harper,” Sweeney said. “When you tell someone that Harper was your MTI at BMT, they know you were trained by the best. She is the gold standard of military training and the epitome of what it means to be an Airman.”