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Little Rock Airman wins AF Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron Irvin
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- “Leadership is about being present, visible and showing vulnerability,” she said. “Underneath the uniform, we are all human – I think sometimes we forget that.”

This is the mindset that drives Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Weigl, 19th Medical Group diagnostic flight chief, who was named the recipient of the 2021 Lance P. Sijan U.S. Air Force Leadership Award in the junior enlisted category.

The award recognizes the accomplishments of Airmen, both officers and enlisted, who demonstrate the highest qualities of leadership in the performance of their duties and conduct of their lives.

It was named in honor of the first U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to receive the Medal of Honor. Sijan was shot down over Vietnam Nov. 9, 1967, and evaded capture for 45 days despite severe injuries. He later died while in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism.

“You read his story and think, ‘come on, how does anyone even qualify for this?’” she said. “He is the epitome of adhering to the code of conduct and living by what we raise our right hand for. It’s a very humbling experience to receive this award; it still feels very unreal.”

From July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, Weigl served as the 959th Medical Group microbiology section chief at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, supervising 63 joint military members.

While working at the DoD’s only Level 1 trauma center, she and her team handled the challenges of COVID-19 without missing a beat. As part of her duties, she drove the 37th Training Wing’s Basic Military Training Coronavirus mission by shifting 45,000 tests to Brooke Army Medical Center, mitigating a $1 billion halt in training.

Weigl’s previous leadership firmly believes she was deserving of the award.

“I had the opportunity to work with Weigl at the Brooke Army Medical Center and I could see the energy in her eyes,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Cardenas, 959th MDG clinical support squadron senior enlisted leader. “Her passion for the Airmen was unmatched, and she dedicated herself to leave a lasting legacy.”

Cardenas added that every section she was placed in, she not only excelled, but left it better than when she took over.

“I come to work every day and do my job to the best of my ability,” Weigl said. “For that to be recognized, and for my leadership to feel that I was even in the same realm as someone like Sijan, is surreal.”

Weigl said that she considers herself a servant leader.

“There’s nothing that I would ask of my people that I wouldn’t do myself,” she said. “I think it’s important to try and teach people the why behind what you’re asking them to do.”

Since first joining the Air Force, Weigl said she always wanted to serve others, aspiring to one day become a first sergeant.  

“One of my first mentors was my initial first sergeant,” she said. “When people would make a mistake, he would hold them accountable. What was more important though, is that he would then work with that Airman and help build them back up to get past the hurdle and become successful.”

While she still desires to become a first sergeant, she came to realize that she didn’t need “the diamond” to serve others and support her Airmen.

“I can take care of my people to the best of my ability every single day no matter what position I’m in,” she said. “My goal before I leave the Air Force is to train my Airmen and teach them not only to be proficient in the military and in their career, but provide them with life skills as well.”