Best of the Best: Sensor operator named AF Outstanding Airman

Master Sgt. Johann, 926th Wing, tracks a simulated enemy during a training mission July 7. As a sensor operator, Johann operates the multi-spectral targeting system of an MQ-9 for reconnaissance and providing terminal guidance for weapons. Johann was selected as one of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. (Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Master Sgt. Johann, 926th Wing, tracks a simulated enemy during a training mission July 7. As a sensor operator, Johann operates the multi-spectral targeting system of an MQ-9 for reconnaissance and providing terminal guidance for weapons. Johann was selected as one of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. (Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

Citizen Airman/Oct. 2017 -- (Editor’s note: For security reasons related to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, the following story does not include the full name of the Air Force Reservist who was named one of the Air Force’s 2017 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.)

Thanks to an Air Force recruiter with a penchant for McDonald’s, Master Sgt. Johann of the 926th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, was inspired to enlist while working the fast-foot restaurant’s drive-thru, because he thought it would be cool to wear the uniform.

Johann joined the Air Force in 2005 right out of high school. Fast-forward 12 years, and the sergeant was recently named one of the service’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

“I joined the military because of 9/11,” Johann said. “I wanted to have a purpose in my life.”

When he came into the Air Force, Johann worked in Services, deploying multiple times supporting lodging, recreation and mortuary affairs. After his first term he was burnt out on Services and considered separating.

“Luckily my supervisor at the time, Master Sgt. Sacko Raffensperger, encouraged me to explore other career fields and pushed me to get my retraining package together.”

Johann liked the idea of being an airborne linguist since he spoke three languages, but that career field wasn’t available to him at that time. He then looked into the 1U unmanned aerospace systems career field, which needed a lot of staff sergeants.

“I guess everything happens for a reason,” he said.

In 2014, Johann transitioned from active duty to the Air Force Reserve and joined the 926th WG, which is fully integrated into the active-duty’s remotely piloted aircraft mission. Reserve Citizen Airmen work side by side with their active-duty counterparts every day to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

“It speaks volumes to his character and commitment to the total force to be selected as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Loper, 926th WG command chief. “His accomplishment highlights how vital this mission set is and the daily impact it makes on the joint force.”

Johann’s first duty with the 926th WG was as a section chief for a total force integration team that operated the MQ-9 camera in support of combatant commanders and ground forces. He now serves as an MQ-9 instructor and evaluator sensor operator.

But his work doesn’t stop when he’s off duty. In his limited free time, Johann is finishing his bachelor’s degree and plans to start working on a master’s degree in business administration when that’s done. His aspirations also include getting his private pilot license and then an instrument rating and a commercial pilot license.

Johann’s squadron superintendent attributes his selection for OAY to his going above and beyond.

“Master Sergeant Johann separated himself by continuously challenging his flight to be the standard that others try to achieve,” Chief Master Sgt. Nathan said. “He persistently worked to improve himself and those around him in all four pillars of the Air Force.

“What this award does not show is all the Airmen who are now setting new goals because of his leadership,” Nathan said.

Johann spends many long, hard hours accomplishing the mission and his ambitions, but he never loses sight of the fact that his success is attributable to the entire Air Force.

“I would not have been nominated as an OAY without my team and leadership,” Johann said. “My active-duty and Reserve squadrons have the most outstanding pilots, sensor operators and intelligence personnel who tirelessly fly and support 24/7 combat operations lines with minimal manning. These professionals uphold the highest aircrew standards by prosecuting targets and eliminating enemy combatants to keep our country safe.”