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MacDill defender earns 12 OAY recognition

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joshua Hastings
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Airmen are taught early on in their military journeys about the values that make the U.S. Air Force the supreme air power in the world – integrity, service and excellence. Annually, the Air Force recognizes 12 Outstanding Airmen within the over 250,000-member enlisted force who exemplify these values and have risen as leaders amongst their peers.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle Fernandez, who currently serves as team lead for the marine patrol section in the 6th Security Forces Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, was recognized as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen for 2022.

“This award means so much to me because I had a lot of challenges throughout 2022,” Fernandez said. “To come out as being one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen makes me feel so proud, humbled and blessed.”

Fernandez is originally from Whittier, California where a large portion of her family still lives. She said her motivation for joining the Air Force came from a desire to be a role model for her family and wanting to prove to herself that she could do something great with her life.

Within her 13 years of service, Fernandez has had multiple duty assignments in the security forces career field including overseas and stateside. From July 2018 to March 2022, she served as a master military training instructor and noncommissioned officer in charge of training at the 331st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Fernandez led over 20 flights of trainees through basic military training and trained several other MTIs. She then got orders to MacDill where her leadership abilities were soon put to the test.

“I was coming back to my career field with doubt toward my leadership abilities, and [I] did a lot of self-reflecting,” she said. “I decided to take a step forward and work even harder than I did before. Coming to MacDill was scary, yet exciting. I was ready for the next challenge.”

At her new duty assignment, Fernandez quickly took on the duties of a flight sergeant, a position normally allocated for a master sergeant. Due to manning limitations within 6th SFS, there was a two-month period where she led the flight of around 30 members by herself. In this role, Fernandez led her Airmen during a nuclear operational readiness inspection which tested the response capabilities of her flight.

After proving her ability to successfully lead her flight, Fernandez became MacDill’s marine patrol lead in September 2022.

Fernandez currently supervises 22 Airmen who are responsible for safeguarding over 7 miles of coastline at MacDill.  Her responsibility is to ensure that every marine patrolman is equipped with the knowledge and skills to accomplish their daily duties.

Fernandez’s aptitude for leading has made her stand out as a noncommissioned officer. The NCO tier, comprised of staff sergeants and technical sergeants, focuses on training, supervision, and task execution.

“I believe that NCOs are the backbone of a lot of units,” Fernandez said. “As an NCO, I strive to be a leader and mentor that the junior enlisted tier can go to, and I do my best to make sure they know I will always have their back. I want [Airmen] to see the bigger picture of how they can not only be a valuable asset to the Air Force but reach their full potential in life.”

Fernandez attributes a significant portion of her leadership ability to her time as an MTI.

“When I went to be an MTI at BMT, I did not know what type of leader the Air Force wanted me to be,” she said. “Throughout my experience as an MTI, I believe I developed it, and how I developed it is through the Airmen that I trained and the other MTIs that helped me lead the way. I felt like I needed to tailor my leadership style based on the trainees I led, and learning what they needed to be inspired and to perform their duties to become a warrior Airman of character.”

Fernandez said that a great leader has specific qualities about them, which include being honest and transparent in communication and a willingness to lead from the front.

“Leadership is not the same as management,” Fernandez said. “Managers get tied up into day-to-day operations and making sure that the job simply gets done. Leadership involves getting out there with Airmen and relating to them, and being able to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk. I would never ask my Airmen to do something that I wouldn't be willing to do myself.”

Fernandez’s impact is not only seen by those she leads, but also those above her. Master Sgt. Alfonso Alfaro, the 6th SFS logistics and readiness superintendent, was Fernandez’s supervisor at the end of 2022 and saw the effect she had on others.

“Michelle’s leadership ability is defined by how she positively influences and empowers people through her diverse approach of maintaining that human factor,” Alfaro said. “She uniquely created a process of listening, learning and cultivating a culture of trust. This foundation is what makes her an exceptional leader amidst her fellow Airmen.”

Throughout her service, Fernandez has developed gratitude toward the Air Force and new motivation for serving.

“The Air Force means a lot to me because of what it has been able to provide for me and my family,” Fernandez said. “The Air Force has given me the opportunity every day to impact people's lives, and there is not any other job like it.”

The recognition of being one of the 12 OAY is a prestigious accomplishment that Fernandez earned through her resilience, positive attitude and compassion for Airmen, and it’s those qualities that help drive the Air Force’s mission forward.