U.S. Air Force names Ohio Air National Guard member one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Grace Riegel
  • 179th Airlift Wing

Senior Airman Kristina Schneider, a Fire Protection Journeyman at the 179th Airlift Wing, Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base, Mansfield, Ohio, was named one of The Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2022. The Outstanding Airman Program annually recognizes 12 enlisted members for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement, and personal achievements. To be one of The 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year is a huge accomplishment for any airman, but Schneider’s story is exceptionally unique and inspirational.

Schneider enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard on August 29th of 2018, one day before her 40th birthday and the maximum age limit for Air Force enlistment.

When asked what it means to her to be named one of The 12 Outstanding Airmen, Schneider expressed humbly that it was hard for her to believe.

“That's me!? I’m one of the 12? In my mind, I wasn't doing anything special. I was doing my job. I was doing what was asked of me.” Schneider added, “It's overwhelming and it's humbling. It means a lot and I hope that I can inspire other women to think that they can do anything regardless of their age.”

Schneider may be older than most airmen, but her life experience set her up for success in the Air National Guard environment. The ANG often leans on personal experience and knowledge gained from traditional airmen who often work full time in their civilian careers.

“It's never too late to do anything that you want to do. I mean, I'm 43 now,” said Schneider, “Don't hesitate just go after what you always wanted if you really want it, you can do it.”

In the last four years Schneider has been able to make the most of her Air Force career by living each day as a prime example of the whole airman concept.

Schneider explained that her “can do” attitude and passion for helping others has led her to say “yes” at every opportunity, both prior to enlisting while working as a firefighter and paramedic in Cleveland and now as an airman serving in the Ohio Air National Guard.

Schneider credits her leadership skills to her time as Sergeant of Operations in Cleveland Emergency Medical Services and an opportunity to lead Project DAWN. Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) is a network of opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution programs (OENDP) coordinated by the Ohio Department of Health. This program allowed Schneider to experience an administrative role in EMS while teaching and helping in her community.

That experience in civilian EMS, as well as her paramedic experience, would lead to the confidence needed to step up in a real world emergency while in a deployed environment with the U.S. Air Force.

While deployed as an Air Force firefighter in Operation Spartan Shield, the historic Afghanistan retrograde spun into crisis. Leadership identified Schneider as having the skill sets necessary to fill the urgent need for an EMT and neonatal provider in Operation Allied Refuge where she assisted in the evacuation of 54,000 Afghan Refugees and medical treatment of 12,000 patients.

Schneider was placed on a team with two Air Force pararescuemen, two medics and two drivers. They had two pickup trucks and one ambulance and were responsible for the first response and triage of refugees landing in Qatar from Afghanistan.

“We would drive onto the flightline to respond to the incoming planes carrying Afghan refugees and treat all of the medical emergencies. People would be sitting on the planes for up to 12 hours with anywhere from 200 to 300 individuals on each plane” said Schneider, “The temperature was in the 120s and people were passing out.”

Schneider explained that structure is hard to come by during a crisis, but it was important for her to remain calm and only focus on the patient in front of her. With 10 years as a paramedic Schneider had plenty of experience to lean back on, she created her own structure and protocols that resembled as well as they could what she was accustomed to in Cleveland.

“I made my own jump bag with the things that I needed and then responded. I was just doing what I know, treating the patients and how they presented.” said Schneider.

Schneider expressed how emotionally draining it was to be surrounded by so many displaced people, scared, injured, fleeing their home and running for their lives.

“It was heartbreaking, but I just focused on helping these people. Knowing they are safe here. It brought tears to my eyes. Little girls coming up to me treating me as a hero because they had never seen women doing this type of work, a mother telling me that her daughter was looking up to me.” Schneider said, “It really made me focus on my life. Like, wow, I really have it pretty good and I knew that I was there for a reason.”

After achieving many accomplishments on deployment, all the while dealing with a weird feeling that something was off with her body, Schneider discovered she was pregnant. A negative pregnancy test was taken before she deployed, and another during her service overseas was administered also showing negative. Before an ultrasound confirmed her pregnancy, a total of four false negative tests had been taken. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she found out and returned to Ohio immediately, later giving birth to a healthy baby girl.

“I came up with what I wanted to name her,” said Schneider, “ I wanted her name to mean something and reflect that she was over there with me and so she did good things too. Her name is Liberty.”

As a guard member in Ohio, Schneider facilitates medical training for the fire department at the 179th Airlift Wing as well as volunteering for activation to work at a mass vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic and a Cleveland food bank where she assisted in Ohio’s largest hunger operation. Schneider says that the most rewarding part of being in the National Guard is to see the instant effect the guard has on the local community.

“To see the community members so excited or so grateful it's just rewarding and so humbling,” said Schneider, “To have the opportunity to do it in my hometown, the city of Cleveland, that's my city, and I get to help the people on a bigger level.”

While Schneider’s determination and passion for helping those around her has won her this large personal accolade, she recognizes that the National Guard’s ability to help comes from each individual member showing up and doing their part.

“One little thing can make an impact,” said Schneider, “All of us coming together doing our own individual little jobs create a huge impact.”