Defender lights the way as Air Force top performer

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

A 423rd SFS Defender working at RAF Molesworth and RAF Alconbury earned the 2020 Air Force Security Forces Flight Level NCO of the Year award. This is the top security forces flight sergeant award across the entire U.S. Air Force.

Tech. Sgt. Jon Stewart, 423rd Security Forces Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of operations, has had an eventful year with many surprises and challenges.

In the summer of 2019, Stewart deployed to Italy as the noncommissioned officer in charge of operations and an anti-terrorism representative with a mission of MQ-9 Reaper security. When he returned to the 423rd Air Base Group in January of 2020, he was placed in charge of a 23-personnel flight as a flight sergeant, managing the day-to-day security operations for the base. In March, Stewart responded to a base shoplifting case and an attempted suicide on the same day within the same hour. For his bravery he was awarded an Air Force Achievement Medal and won Group NCO of the 1st Quarter. In July, he assumed the role as NCOIC of operations. Fast-forward a few months, and he was able to secure the wing’s Lance P. Sijan award and the Distinguished Graduate award from NCOA.

“It’s pretty crazy to win this caliber of an award at a base like this, we’re the “Mayberry” of bases,” said Stewart. “It was just a domino effect, being at the right place at the right time the whole year.”

Stewart grew up in a military family. He joined the Air Force right after graduating from his Melbourne, Florida high school.

“I joined because I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Stewart. “So I thought, let me sign up for six years and I’ll figure out what I want to do, if I like it, I’ll keep going. Obviously, I kept going.”

He married his high school sweetheart right after tech school, and they went on to have four kids. Their youngest child was born Dec. 1, 2020.

“I would not have any of my success without my wife,” said Stewart. “My wife being home with four kids. I know it’s crazy, especially with COVID going on. She holds down the fort and takes care of me and the kids. I’m very thankful.”

Stewart has been a defender for 11 years, and he says his favorite aspect is the people.

“I love being a cop, but I especially love the people,” said Stewart. “There are so many cops, pretty much at every base. There are so many diverse people that you meet, sharing great stories, you meet life-long friends. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just a bond that we have. If you attend a course while TDY and have a cop in your class, you almost immediately click. Everyone has something in common, being in the Security Forces career field. I loved being a flight sergeant, directly leading the troops out there, checking on them, seeing how they’re doing, that’s my favorite experience, meeting new people.”

As the NCOIC of operations, Stewart wears many hats, but he primarily develops and implements policies for flight operations.

In his spare time, he has been participating in the Air Force’s Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) program. CPI is an improvement process that encourages Airmen to participate in creating projects that maximizes value and eliminates waste in all aspects of the Air Force.

“I have never agreed with the saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ because there are so many people coming in with diverse backgrounds and with innovative thinking who can immediately improve a process,” said Stewart. “Sometimes we’re stuck with things because that’s the way we’ve always done it. We change things to better improve a process, save money and save time.”

Stewart is currently working with Master Sgt. Jeremy Wehrly as their unit’s CPI program managers, and the only two Certified Active Duty Green Belt instructors in our MAJCOM who train others on the CPI basic fundamentals course. Stewart has facilitated over 11 process improvement projects, saving about 3,400 man hours annually to date and is looking forward to attending the Black Belt course once in-resident courses open back up. He’s also part of the wing’s annual innovation conference this year, working with a diverse team across the wing led by Dr. Zoe Dyndor, the 501st CSW CPI wing process manager.

COVID-19 has created many challenges to the defenders who are protecting our bases. Many are deployed or following restriction of movement before or after deployment travels. To support the manning decrease and pandemic precautions, personnel have been working longer hours and with fewer Airmen, often in inclement weather.

Stewart admits that his job can be difficult sometimes, but he always tries to stay positive.

“It may be the darkest day, but I just try to stay positive because negatives are not going to get you anywhere, they’re just going to put everyone else in a negative mood,” said Stewart. “I just love being positive, I really have nothing to complain about. My wife of course helps, but I go to the gym to work out so that de-stresses me a lot. I’ve always had great troops, and I feed off of people. If I see a positive person, anybody positive during the day for that matter, I’d feed off of it. I’ll also crack jokes, corny jokes too, the corniest. I’m a dad, what do you want!”