By Staff Sgt. John E. Hillier, Air National Guard Readiness Center Public Affairs
/ Published July 29, 2015
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- A thirst for knowledge and making connections with people is what motivates Senior Airman Jonathan R. Smail, the Air National Guard 2015 Outstanding Airman of the Year.
Smail is a RF Transmissions Systems Journeyman with the Colorado ANG's 233rd Space Communications Squadron, based in Greeley, Colorado. He was chosen for his commitment to improving the programs and people in his unit.
Smail says that he has always wanted to make a life out of serving others. He was a college student working towards a teaching degree when a friend joined the Air Force. After talking with him about his experience, Smail felt the call to join something bigger than himself.
"I thought it was cool what he did, how he's serving," said Smail. "I wanted to emulate that, to be involved in an organization as powerful as that - doing something to serve others, doing something significant. Within the next 30 minutes, I had reconstructed my entire life plan, incorporating how to serve. I was working at a hotel that some of our Guard members stay at during drill weekends, so they set me up with a recruiter."
"When I came back [from basic training,] I fell in love with the uniform, and being able to go to the base each day working with the people there, doing something significant."
Smail was chosen out of thousands of Airmen across the ANG for this honor, but he takes very little of the credit for the honor. That, he says, belongs to his family and his teammates at the 233rd.
"My father is the man who showed me what it means to work hard and care for a family," said Smail. "He's spent years on graveyard shift, working weekends and 12 hour shifts to take care of us. Some days are extremely physical and really take a toll on him, but he drives in day after day. I have a strong work ethic because of my dad."
"[This award] is a representation of how much my unit, my shop, my supervisors and co-workers have put into me to develop me and take care of me," he said. "All the people who have taken me under their wing, everyone who's pulled me aside to talk - they all had a piece in getting me to where I am now. They tucked a little nugget or idea in my ear... but everything people have done for me has meant just so much for me. I'm absolutely blessed by them."
Wanting to ensure others get the same opportunities he's had, Smail makes it a point to pass on his knowledge and experience on to new Airmen who join the unit.
"I remember how tough it was [first coming in,]" Smail said. "I wanted so badly to work hard and show my new shop that I could keep up and be an asset. But when you're new and working around millions of dollars of equipment, it can be a problem to do that. Airmen might have been farmers or ranchers before - I was a coal miner - so we know how to work hard. But the job is so technical, so I try to make sure that those Airmen who want to work hard have a role."
Smail is also a PT leader in his unit, and relished the opportunity to put his coaching experience to work as well.
"I definitely like to help those individuals who are struggling with fitness and show them how to improve," he said. "Our unit has a good program for identifying those who are struggling or about to fail and take turns running with them, working with them on form for push-ups, sit-ups, or helping them with meal preparation. I love helping people that way, the training and teaching aspect is really cool.
It was during the 2013 Colorado floods that Smail was able to witness the significant impact the Guard has on the people they serve. Volunteers from the 233rd were among the many Soldiers and Airmen called out by the Governor to provide disaster relief.
"What was so great about it for me was that when the damage happened, we were there and able to see the faces of the people who were affected," Smail said. "We were in a river up to our knees, moving rocks trying to make a levee with rocks and sandbags [to protect a neighborhood.] For two or three hours, we had Army, we had Air Force, and we had civilians working together to protect their property. It didn't matter who was who right then, we were all just there working as hard as we could trying to steer the river away from those homes, which we did."
Making a personal connection is not only the goal for Smail, it's the payoff as well. Meeting people in his community and learning about what they do is what fuels him to serve.
What I really enjoy doing is just going out to experience a new place or new community," said Smail. "My girlfriend and I will pick a new place and go check it out, get to know the owners/managers and learn their story. She always gets annoyed, because I can't just enjoy a city - I'm always studying it and want to learn everything about it."
"It's motivating to see that you can do many things to serve your community in the Guard," he said. "Even as a technician, I'm able to find time to build a piece of the community through volunteering, attending city meetings, advocating for local causes, and supporting local businesses. I take great pride in being able to serve a federal mission, a state mission, and a community mission. The idea that you can provide value as a citizen yet still serve your country - that's the secret to having the most significant experience in the Guard."