Local Reserve Citizen Airman receives national recognition as ‘Outstanding Airman of the Year’

Airmen work hard day in and day out to complete the tasks they are given. Some go above and beyond the call of duty and are highlighted for their efforts.

Reserve Citizen Airman Staff Sgt. Kristy L. Riley, 924th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight combat plans training supervisor, from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., was recognized at Air Force Reserve Command Headquarters level as their Airman of the Year, moving on to be selected as one of the Department of the Air Force’s “12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.”

Staff Sgt. Kristy Riley, 924th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight combat plans training supervisor, poses for a photo at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 23, 2021. Riley was recently congratulated by Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, for becoming one of the Air Forceís 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Blake Gonzales)

“Munitions in an integral part of the Air Force mission,” Riley said. “The pilots need their bombs, missiles and gun ammunition to be able to carry out their orders. Those defending the base need their ammo for their firearms, and so on.”

Riley, originally from Escondido, California, joined the Air Force Reserve to help finish paying for her nursing degree and accepted the first job the recruiter offered that lined up with her date of availability.

“I did choose (this career field) but neither I — nor my recruiter — knew what it was. That did not bother me because I knew it would not be the same as nursing,” Riley said. “The (basic training and technical) school dates just lined up perfectly.”

From the moment Riley arrived at the 924th FG, she hit the ground running, and her leadership immediately took notice.

“She outworks all her peers and has continuously done so since joining our team five years ago,” said Senior Master Sgt. James Pumarejo, 924th Maintenance Squadron munition flight chief.

Pumarejo explained that Riley is a great wingman and does her job without the need for recognition.

“She is ambitious to reach her full potential, however, she is not willing to do it at the expense of another,” Pumarejo said. “She wants to see her teammates succeed every bit as much as herself. She is a great team player and takes pride in the quantity and quality of work she does. She is brutally honest and will tell you exactly what she thinks, which, in my opinion, brings stronger trust to the team. She is about getting stuff done and finding the most efficient way to get it done. In our TFI (Total Force Integration) environment, I’ve had active-duty sections superintendents fighting to have her in their shop — she’s that good.”

Her character traits have not wavered from the first day she started in the unit and have always put her in her leadership’s line of sight.

“Believe it or not, Riley was a candidate for Wing Annuals (Awards) three times in the five years she’s been on our team,” Pumarejo said. “This just goes to show she’s always been consistent with her work ethic and drive. Each year she would get a little bit larger scope of responsibility. (She) has always had the whole Airman area squared away — constantly taking classes, volunteering, and taking on responsibility above her grade — which I think set her up for success this year.”

The running theme in Riley’s award nomination was her ability to streamline processes, train Airmen, and support other organizations all while saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Even while exceeding her leadership’s expectations in the workplace, Riley also volunteered, completed college classes, earned her CPR instructor and National EMT Certifications.

Staff Sgt. Kristy Riley, 924th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight combat plans training supervisor, teaches proper CPR procedures at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., July 23, 2021. Riley was named one of the Air Forceís 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year and was recently nominated for the Air Force Sergeants Association’s Pitsenbarger Award. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Blake Gonzales)

Riley ended up using both of her certifications while temporarily assigned at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

“We went to Lake Mead for a morale event,” Riley said. There was a disturbance in the water that turned out to be a man drowning. We were able to bring him and his cousin back to shore safely where I assisted the paramedic in getting information from the man’s wife and helping with anything the medic needed. The ambulance assigned to the lake was on another call, so it took a little bit of time to get the man on his way to the hospital. It was a case of, right place at the right time, and I was glad it ended well for him and his family.”

Riley was happy to be there to help and use her life-saving training. Her actions further drove her leadership to have her represent their unit for the yearly awards.

“Riley was selected to represent our organization for three reasons: performance, attitude and humility,” said Chief Master Sgt. Henry May, 924th FG superintendent. “Riley gives her all every day. She has a pattern of consistent performance, which is evidenced by several previous award wins such as the Pitsenbarger Award, three AFRC Outstanding Munitions/Missile Maintenance Awards, ACC Unit Effectiveness Inspection Superior Performer, and many others. Staff Sgt. Riley is not only driven in her own right, but pushes others to succeed as well. She has an infectious positive attitude and constantly encourages her fellow Airmen. She simply lives the Air Force core values and is genuinely committed to integrity, service and excellence.”

Even though they were proud to nominate Riley for the award, no one expected her — a Reserve ammo troop — to win at the headquarters Air Force level.

“Airman of the Year is one of the most prestigious honors anyone could receive in their lifetime,” May said. “Though I did not expect this to happen for our organization, I am honestly not surprised that it was Staff Sgt. Kristy Riley who was selected. She is simply an amazing Airman, and a shining example of what every Airman should model their service after. Once I received the news that she had won, it took a few moments to sink in, and then I felt an enormous swell of pride.

Riley is still surprised that she won at that level but has no plans to let this limelight deter her from her ultimate goals.

“I didn’t join the military for recognition and honestly never thought anything like this would happen. So, it is pretty amazing to say the least,” Riley said. “To join originally as a way to serve, but also progress in my personal goals, and then to earn an award at the Air Force level is almost unbelievable. This recognition as Airman of the Year for the Air Force is a humbling experience, and I am honored to represent the 70,000 U.S. Air Force Reservists who strive to defend our great nation. From here, I plan to finish my current enlistment next fall and then pursue becoming a nurse in the military to continue to serve in the area I feel I have been called to do.”

Riley is currently a full-time student pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Grand Canyon University, in Phoenix, Ariz.

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