NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — For many Americans, the year 2008 brought the beginning of a new era in the country. Foreclosure signs lined the streets of many neighborhoods. Layoffs became the norm for even the most experienced American workers creating a tough job market for new college graduates with no experience who now faced fierce competition for the few jobs that were out there.
One of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2012, Staff Sgt. Joseph Senteno, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron budget analyst, overcame the challenges of a difficult job market after graduating college … with a degree in finance.
“I applied for entry-level financial analyst positions and thought I did well in the interviews,” Senteno said. “It came down to the fact that I had no experience.”
With college loan payments breathing down his neck and time running out, Senteno took a job as waiter in his hometown of Carlsbad, Calif. The restaurant was located near military bases and was frequented by Navy and Air Force veterans that understood his predicament.
“I would always talk to these people and they’d say, ‘you should do this and you should do that,’” Senteno said. “The more and more I talked with them and heard their recommendations, the more I thought to myself, ‘yeah, maybe I would do well in the Air Force.’”
Like every Airman that came before him Senteno made the trip to his recruiter’s office where he applied for a commission. Senteno wasn’t selected to become an Air Force officer, but that didn’t discourage him. He informed his recruiter of his degree in finance and signed a contract that guaranteed him Air Force Specialty Code 6F0X1 Financial Management; it just seemed right.
“I needed experience, and that’s what the Air Force offered me,” Senteno said, and so just like that the finance major had a career.
“[Basic Military Training] did a great job; I had a great experience,” Senteno said. “My instructor was awesome, he motivated me [and] taught me to care for other people and helped build my ambition,” he added.
Senteno’s motivation was evidenced early on in his career as he earned Top Physical Training performer and Honor Graduate in BMT and then an Academic Excellence award and Airman of the Month honors in technical training.
His first taste of his new career would come at Barksdale AFB, La., where he served as a customer service technician specializing in the Reserve Travel System. After only a few months on station, Senteno had processed more than $1 million in travel vouchers.
Senteno attributes much of his early success to quality supervisors who understood his goals and did everything they could to help him get where he wanted to be.
“Right off the bat I was set up for success,” Senteno said. “When I got [to Barksdale AFB], I made it very clear to my supervisors what my goals [were], and I became excellent at my job.”
Because of his outstanding performance and educational background, Senteno was chosen to fill an NCO position in financial analysis as an airman first class. In this position Senteno managed a $10 million plus program while training other Airmen and maintaining involvement in the local community. He had already won several awards for his work before being selected for Senior Airman Below the Zone in 2011.
Knowledge of analytical methods he gained during his time at San Diego State University helped him to implement new tools that made himself and other finance Airmen more effective. His three year analysis tool allowed side-by-side comparison of annual contracts and his Miscellaneous Obligation Reimbursement Document saved significant man hours and unused funds.
For the last three months Senteno has been assigned to the 99th CES, where he manages budgets and appropriates funds for various projects around base.
“He has made a rapid adaptation to his new duties and is eager and unhesitant when taking on new challenges,” said Alphonso Harris, Senteno’s current supervisor. “He’s has made a very positive impression.”
Senteno’s belief in the “whole person concept” has made him the well-rounded Airman he is today.
“What I’ve always been told is to never settle or become complacent where you are, always have a plan A, B, C and D,” Senteno said. “I have goals, and I’ll do what it takes to get there.”
Being named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year is a significant accomplishment for the new staff sergeant, who recently became a distinguished graduate from Airman Leadership School. But he isn’t done. Senteno is currently working towards his master’s degree in Business Administration and maintains a 4.0 GPA.