Staff Sgt. Wilson B. Gardner was selected as the Air National Guard's 2018 Outstanding Airman of the Year, and one of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
Gardner, an airfield systems craftsman with the 202nd Engineering Installation Squadron of the Georgia Air National Guard, was selected from tens of thousands of enlisted Air Guard airmen for the award, according to an Air Guard release.
“To be honest, being chosen actually caught me off guard,” Gardner said. “Day to day, I never really thought I was going above and beyond. I really always saw myself as just doing my job and what was expected of me. It's a real honor to be recognized for this.”
Just doing his job is somewhat of an understatement when noting his long list of accomplishments. A two-time quarterly award winner, Gardner was a three-time volunteer for U.S. Strategic Command deployments, created an in-house soldering course for his airmen that boosted reliability by 40 percent, saved his unit over $1 million by ensuring warranties on 100,000 installed cables, and graduated from Airman Leadership School as Distinguished Graduate, among other accomplishments.
Gardner also displayed his ability to act quickly during a crisis when he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a choking customer in a restaurant and saved the person's life.
“I had just gone through Self Aid Buddy Care training about two weeks prior,” Gardner recalled. “I didn't even think about it, I just jumped into action.”
Gardner enlisted in 2013. He has known since he was in high school that he wanted to serve in the armed forces, participating in the Junior ROTC program at his school.
“One of the biggest rewards of being an airman is that when you enlist, you're given the opportunity to gain a skillset you may not otherwise have gotten.” Gardner said. “You have to live a double life. It's not always easy to have a second job or balance going TDY or additional duties. But at the same time being in the Guard gives you that benefit to pursue further education, low-cost health care for your family, and many benefits you can use in your day-to-day life.”