STS Airman named one of 2019 Outstanding OAY

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Mandy Foster
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

Each year Air Force officials select 12 Airmen from a pool of 36 nominees based on their superior leadership, job performance and personal achievements to represent the service’s top enlisted members. 

Tech. Sgt. Kenneth O’Brien, special tactics section chief from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, was selected as one of the 2019 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

Twelve years ago, O’Brien started his Air Force career when he left for basic training right after graduating high school. He said he had always wanted to be the one jumping out of planes but he also had the desire to help people.

“I went to the recruiter specifically looking for pararescue,” said O’Brien. “I had been looking into it since I was 12 years old and it was my only goal.”

Air Force special operations leadership informed O’Brien about winning the 2019 OAY after receiving his Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

“I was shocked and never thought I would win,” said O’Brien. 

Public recognition and awards have always been an afterthought for O’Brien who said his goal has always been to do his best and excel at his job. 

“If someone needs to go do something dangerous, I volunteer,” said O’Brien. “If someone needs a leader, I volunteer. I happened to be in the right place at the right time and that’s what helped me stand out because I sought out key positions or responsibilities.”

He had an eventful year from being a part of President Trump’s security team for the North Korean Summit to saving children in the Thai cave rescue of 2018. 

During the rescue, O’Brien was the lead medic in chamber three which was the farthest inside the cave of any American. He was the first person to have access to the children as they came out of the water.

“When we got the last child out of the cave that was a big moment because we did not think they all were going to survive,” said O’Brien. “When we found out they had that was obviously huge for us.”

O’Brien stated he is still undecided about how long his career in the Air Force will last, but for now he cannot think of doing anything else.

“I want to keep doing this as long as I can or as long as my body can handle it,” said O’Brien. “Hopefully I can continue to do the big missions like this and continue to help people.”