ANG’s Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year: Senior Master Sgt. Jason L. Handa

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

Senior Master Sgt. Jason L. Handa, first sergeant for the 162nd Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, was named the Air National Guard’s 2016 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year. 

Handa was selected for this honor among all other ANG Airmen serving in the first sergeant career field for his outstanding performance while deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and for his commitment to taking care of his fellow Airmen.

“I feel really honored just to have been nominated at my base,” said Handa. “To be recognized at this level like this–I was never a John Levitow Award winner, I was never a distinguished graduate–but I’ve got a whole lot of love and care for what I do every day. It’s pretty awesome, and I just hope I don’t let anyone down.”

Handa enlisted in the Air Force as an armaments apprentice and served four years on active duty.

“I talked to a recruiter and changed my life,” Handa said. “I did active for four years, loved every minute of it. I learned what leadership was; I learned what family was. It was the first time in my life that I felt someone look at me with an appreciation for the effort I put out.

After his enlistment was up, Handa returned to civilian life. But after about a year, he realized that a life in uniform was where his path was taking him.

“I got out because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “I kind of had to leave to know how much I missed it and remind myself how much I loved it. I got into the Guard in October of 2000, and I’ve been there ever since at the 162nd.”

Handa spent the majority of the award year deployed with the 955th Air Expeditionary Squadron serving as a first sergeant for Airmen training, advising and assisting Afghan forces throughout the nation of Afghanistan.

“My greatest challenge was that I had 700 people who were scattered all over the country and I’m responsible for the health, morale and welfare of all those folks–most of whom are not sitting in front of me,” Handa explained. “I have to know where they’re located, have accountability for them, make sure all their protective gear, uniforms and equipment is taken care of. Get things on helicopters, get me on a helicopter and go around to all these FOBs to take care of people. It’s like spinning plates.”

Handa says his most satisfying accomplishment was in handling of emergency leave for Airmen who needed to get back home at a moment’s notice.

“Emergency leaves unfortunately happen on every deployment,” he said. “I’m proud to say that we got Airmen out of country to their homes within 48 hours from our notification–figuring out how to get them from wherever they were and into Bagram, from Bagram onto a military aircraft to Qatar, and then driven to a civilian airport to fly home–that’s how fast we moved. And that’s from the other side of the world.”

His experience in Afghanistan gave Handa some valuable tools to take back with him to Arizona.

“It gives me perspective now, because no matter what occurs in the workplace it doesn’t faze me,” he said. “You know what, we’re making mission and everyone’s getting home safe. I just don’t worry about the little things. I figure the challenge is to figure out how to bring that ‘Go get ‘em, and look out for your battle buddy’ kind of attitude back into our Guard units.”

Spend any time talking with Handa, and one soon learns about his rules for success.

 “I tell any prospective Airman who would like to make his or her way in the ANG, what they need to do to be successful,” said Handa. “It is: Show up to work on time every day with a positive attitude, Be a good teammate, and Learn your job. If you put in that effort, there’s no way you’re not going to be successful in the Air National Guard.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak on strength-based leadership at our unit,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of our leaders from young Airmen up to captains, who have all dropped in to ‘listen to Sergeant Handa talk’ about leadership and hear me talk about my ideas. It’s special that folks are interested. I must be on to something–I certainly didn’t invent it, but I communicate it.”

Helping Airmen improve their lives is a passion of Handa’s both in and out of uniform. He believes strongly in financial education and helping Airmen understand the importance of taking control of their finances.

“I’d like to take on a role in helping Airmen with their finances, because I know what kind of stress that puts on people,” he said. “Managing money, creating a spending plan, discussing what poor finances can do to security clearances or marriages. I’d love to be able to give back in some way after I have to take the uniform off.”

Golf, travel and family time are where Handa turns when he needs to unwind.

“Whenever I go on any kind of TDY, I always want to drive because I love road trips,” said Handa. “I love to drive and see the landscape change. Basically, if it’s in the States, it’s someplace that we’re interested in going, or we’ve already been. Outside of that, I love to golf. Whether it’s with my friends, or with my wife and daughter, it’s a great way to spend time–three or four hours of no TV, just us out in nature hitting a little white ball.”

Taking care of his people is what Handa loves, and he’s done an outstanding job of it both at home station and downrange. The Air National Guard is proud to name Senior Master Sgt. Handa as our 2016 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year.

“I work for everyone in this country,” Handa said. “I show up every day wearing a uniform I’m proud of that says ‘U.S.’ on it. I’m proud to tell people what I do every day and the Air Force is always going to be part of my family in some way, as long as they’ll have me.”