When presented the award, Graw was gathered in the conference room with the deployed leadership with no idea why. Over the telecom, Crepeau jokingly told her the deployment was going to be extended, and she automatically accepted this news with no hesitation.
“I quickly told her that was not the case, but that attitude is exactly why she was selected by the Air Force for this award,” he said. “She will always find ways to do more to help her nation and her fellow Airmen.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, while a majority of base personnel were teleworking, Graw found a way to stand out among the rest, said Chief Master Sgt. Zachary Pate, Wing Staff Agency superintendent, who previously served in the same position at 88 CS.
“The 88th Communications Squadron, like other squadrons, temporarily shut down due to the pandemic, but Valerie was in the position where she could not shut down,” he said. “The Cyber Operations Center is the No. 1 work center in the Communications Squadron that never missed a beat.
“To witness her shine through the pandemic and continue to give 100 percent with a smile on her face, was really inspirational.”
Some highlights of her leadership and job performance include:
§ Briefed 10 Pentagon leaders shortly after returning from a previous deployment, highlighting the first-ever Cyber C2 capabilities and a 500-day strategic plan. She is credited with driving the Air Force-wide Cyber Squadron Initiative.
§ Managed 25 technical orders and service impacts, protecting the $60.35 billion missions of two commands
§ Forged Air Force Materiel Command’s cyber defense mission. For this, she was nominated for the 2020 Air Force Information Dominance and General John P. Jumper Awards.
§ Resolved 6,400 virtual private network shortfalls to guarantee VPN availability for 35,000 personnel. She also restored critical Cloud services for 25,000 base personnel.
§ Modernized operations and improved communications in her work center. Various changes she proposed saved $73,000. Other work she did saved 600 staff hours.
In 2020, she also won the Academic Achievement and Distinguished Graduate awards in Airman Leadership School; led a 9/11 remembrance ruck march; and earned a Community College of the Air Force degree in information systems management – an accomplishment shared by only 2.9% of all enlisted Airmen.
Pate said the amount of potential within Graw has no bounds.
“Because her ceiling is unlimited, there is no telling where she will be in 15 years,” he said. “She is the reason that I continue to lace up my boots, even when I could have retired three years ago. It is Airmen like her that inspire me to continue serving this nation.”
Wing leaders praised Graw’s character and leadership, saying she is always more than willing to accept responsibility and new challenges without hesitation.
“We could not be more proud of Staff Sgt. Graw and her recognition,” said Col. Ivan Herwick, 88th Communications Group commander. “It is an honor to be part of an organization with outstanding Airmen like her.”
Col. Patrick Miller, 88 ABW and installation commander, called the Outstanding Airmen of the Year selection a “testament to her character and competence.”
“Not only is she a humble leader who exemplifies every single one of our wing’s character traits, she is also a tremendous guidon bearer for her team, our wing and the Air Force,” Miller said
Graw, a native of Claridge, Pennsylvania, with a little over four years in the Air Force, said she finds her motivation to keep learning and getting better by understanding that she is making a difference.
“It can be something small, like asking an Airman about their day and checking on them, or something big, like making sure that software gets installed on (explosive ordnance disposal) equipment to save lives,” she said. “Everything has an impact and even the smallest things are worth the time because they can create domino effects where it leads to missions being carried out successfully.
Thankful to others
Graw also thanks those who have been part of her journey.
“This recognition reflects the leadership that the 88th Communication Squadron is so lucky to have,” she said. “We have people that genuinely care about us and who want to see us succeed, and I would have never made it this far without the support and opportunities that I have been granted from leadership.”
Whether overseas or at WPAFB, Graw is always ready to put the mission, other Airmen and the Air Force first, base leaders said.
The staff sergeant says she’s appreciative of this award and its reflection on her job performance, teammates and leadership. But it also represents what she stands for.
“Being selected as one of the 12 recipients is an honor that is hard to put into words,” Graw said. “It is not a win that I take lightly because it means that I have been selected to represent the enlisted force on an Air Force-wide scale.
“I love being an Airman and being able to support others. Being an enlisted member of the Air Force is something that I take pride in and it is a very large part of who I am, so I am truly grateful to be able to share my experiences and to learn from others across the branch.”
An Air Force selection board at the Air Force Personnel Center considered 35 nominees who represented major commands, direct reporting units, field operating agencies and Headquarters Air Force. The board selected the 12 Airmen based on superior leadership, job performance and personal achievements.
All selectees are authorized to wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon with a bronze service star device. They are also authorized to wear the Outstanding Airman of the Year Badge for one year from the date of formal presentation.