Columbus Airman named 1 of 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group tower chief air traffic controller, meets Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. Matias and 11 others were awarded the 2018 Outstanding Airman of the Year Award by the Air Force Association. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group tower chief air traffic controller, meets Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. Matias and 11 others were awarded the 2018 Outstanding Airman of the Year Award by the Air Force Association. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group air traffic control tower chief controller speaks with an afternoon crew June 20, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Matias tries to visit each crew throughout the day so every Airman gets a chance to interact with him. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group air traffic control tower chief controller speaks with an afternoon crew June 20, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Matias tries to visit each crew throughout the day so every Airman gets a chance to interact with him. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Senior enlisted leaders of the 14th Flying Training Wing and Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, listen to the history of the pilot training base at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. During Gudgel’s visit to Columbus AFB, she toured the Air Traffic Control tower and met with one of the 2018 Outstanding Airman of the Year award recipients. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Senior enlisted leaders of the 14th Flying Training Wing and Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, listen to the history of the pilot training base at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. During Gudgel’s visit to Columbus AFB, she toured the Air Traffic Control tower and met with one of the 2018 Outstanding Airman of the Year award recipients. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group tower chief air traffic controller speaks with Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. During Gudgel’s tour of Columbus AFB, Matias spoke to her about the ATC tower and the operations conducted daily to produce pilots. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Group tower chief air traffic controller speaks with Chief Master Sgt. Juliet Gudgel, command chief of Air Education and Training Command, at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, June 21, 2018. During Gudgel’s tour of Columbus AFB, Matias spoke to her about the ATC tower and the operations conducted daily to produce pilots. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- More than 250,000 active-duty Airmen make up the Air Force’s enlisted force and each year only 12 Airmen are selected from this group as the best of the best; Master Sgt. Joshua Matias, 14th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control tower chief controller, was one those Airmen selected as the 2018 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

Being read his Miranda rights in the 14th Operations Group commander’s office, surrounded by the 14th Flying Training Wing leadership and on a teleconference with Air Education and Training Command leadership, Matias was stiff at attention, he recalled everything he had done over the recent weeks wondering what he could have done wrong.

“Nothing was coming to mind,” Matias said. “Lt. Col. James Winning [14th Operations Support Squadron commander], gets to the end of the Miranda rights and said ‘General we have to tell him why he’s in here’ … somebody in the room said ‘Sergeant Matias you’re being charged with wining Outstanding Airman of the Year.’ My hands dropped to my knees and I was like, ‘We couldn’t have done this any other way?’ It didn’t become real until I received an email from the current outstanding Airmen getting words of wisdom on how to proceed forward. It’s surreal.”

Public recognition and awards have always been an afterthought, Matias said his goal has always been to do his best as an Airman while simultaneously training the Air Force’s next generation of Airmen. Molding and mentoring Airmen is one of his passions and Matias said he felt that’s what attributed to him being named one of 12 OAY, an award sponsored by the Air Force Association.

“What makes Matias extraordinary, what makes him deserving of this 12 OAY … he is a gifted leader and he is purposefully driven toward people and organizations,” said Senior Master Sgt. Garrick Christian, 14th OSS radar approach control chief controller. “It’s the people part, we are trying to mold and shape Airmen, trying to sharpen their skill sets, trying to make them into warriors.”

One of the more specific achievements Matias said he thought contributed to his successes was the 40 hours he and many others across Team BLAZE spent rewriting every annual award for the 14th Operations Group.

“It’d be wrong of me not to give credit where credit is due,” Matias said. “The operations group, the team of senior NCO’s, is where it started … anyone we could grab to put eyes on and make sure it was readable to people outside of air traffic control. I’d be wrong if I didn’t give everyone in the process credit.”

Alongside the team effort of building the award packages from the ground up, he mentioned his last deployment where he had the opportunity of impacting the Air Force through innovation and creative problem solving in a different capacity.

“For seven months I had the honor of serving as tower chief controller and the squadron superintendent,” Matias said. “My commander, an F-22 Raptor pilot requested we put emerging technology into the F-22 … and over the next week of my life, 70 hours to be exact … myself and Airmen from contracting, communications, finance, logistics, and others, worked around the clock reaching all the way to the U.S. trying to make this happen … We enabled the F-22 to have its first ever common operating picture of what was happening on the ground.”

The project he and his team completed is now being implemented in other weapon systems around the Air Force.

“Also down range as the tower chief,” Matias said, “I was responsible for bridging the gap between our Coalition Forces, the flying community, and the one hundred Host Nation air traffic controllers.”

He said the relationships he formed on behalf of the Air Force and Coalition Forces contributed to his accomplishments.

“The Whole Airman Concept brought everything together,” Matias said. “My passion is helping underprivileged youth. … As the Top 3 President I serve the base, and I’ve used my network on base to contribute downtown to create opportunities for our Airmen off base to volunteer. Off base, I serve on the Board of Directors for the Golden Triangle Boys and Girls Clubs. I think that’s what really rounded out the package.”

Matias said when he began his Air Force career nearly 15 years ago, he never imagined he would excel to the level he has. Growing up in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by way of Chicago, he said the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Bears were his choice pro teams, but enjoyed Wisconsin’s college sports teams.

“I joined the Air Force Aug. 19, 2003, at 18 years old,” Matias said. “I enlisted my junior year of high school … I joined the Air Force initially through the advice of a friend. I always wanted to be a Navy SEAL growing up, but I come from a single parent household and having a family to me was way more important.”

He said his friend told him about the Air Force’s inclusive approach to families and how they recognize a spouse’s life goes on after hanging up their uniform.

“Air traffic was at the top of my list of jobs,” he said. “The idea was when I retired from the military, regardless if that was at the end of four or 20 years, that I would have a career that would make money on the outside and not have to work 12-hour days like my mother has worked even to this day.”

In 2003, Matias signed a four-year contract. Throughout his career he said he felt serving for 20 years and retiring would help him and his family more in the end. He never gave it much thought beyond that point until being questioned by the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Kaleth Wright.

“Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright and I served together in [South] Korea, we saw each other when he became my command chief in Europe, again on my last deployment, and then in Orlando Florida.” Matias said. “In Orlando chief asked me a question that day I don’t think I was prepared for, ‘how much longer does the Air Force have you?’ I still hadn’t found out I was a senior master sergeant select so I told him I was up for senior master sergeant and if I made rank I would stay in probably past the 20 year mark.”

Matias said he went back to his room and discussed it with his wife. She advised him as long as he was happy with what he was doing she didn’t have any objections. The next week he found out he made senior master sergeant and his family decided if this momentum keeps moving forward he’s open to spending 30 years in the Air Force.

“Twenty years is no longer the goal,” Matias said. “Now the goal is to go as long as the Air Force will allow me … as my career has gone on my goals have continuously changed to go further and further.”

Matias said his understanding of his identity in and out of the uniform, his purpose throughout his life, and his values like faith, family, honesty and work ethic all has brought him to where he is today.

He gave credit to everyone who helped him to this point, acknowledging his spot as one of 12 individuals represents the work of hundreds of other spectacular Airmen.