103rd Airlift Wing Outstanding Airmen of the Year 2022

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

Senior Airman Tyler McPherson, Outstanding Airman of the Year

Total years of service:  3

Date joined the Connecticut Air National Guard:  January 8, 2019

Current Unit:  103rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Emergency Management Flight

Official Duty Title:  Emergency Management Specialist

Hometown: Wallingford, Connecticut

Why do you serve?

“I joined the Connecticut Air National Guard looking for new experiences and new opportunities for personal growth. I continue to serve because my time in the Guard has fostered a passion for Connecticut and I am proud to serve where I have lived and worked my whole life.”

Senior Airman Tyler McPherson overhauled Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base's Threat Detection Grid and emergency response process by revising and plotting 28 new Post Attack Reconnaissance routes, covering 304,000 acres of mission area. The overhaul reduced the need for additional resources and reduced the amount of time between the report of attacks and analysis of such reports, expediting response times. His forward-thinking efforts reduced reliance on joint forces, facilitated the training of their replacements, and prepared Al Jaber for a warm status with future manning of 150 to 300 personnel capable of restoring the procedures that he developed.

While serving in the Area of Responsibility, McPherson led all logistical coordination for emergency management asset reallocation within the AOR. His actions corrected shortfalls at Cargo City, Ali Al Salem Air Base, and Al Udeid and led to the restoration of response capabilities ahead of deadlines established by A7 directives. Furthermore, McPherson worked directly with A7 to support AOR programs, ensuring the serviceability of more than 2,000 critical response items, maximizing active and passive CBRN defense postures.

McPherson expertly repaired a critical piece of detection equipment after many other airmen had tried unsuccessfully. He negotiated for the parts and additional training through other base agencies to enable his team to provide new services outside their scope. His actions enabled airmen in five career fields form three installations the ability to safely resume critical infrastructure work while being on call 24 hours, seven days a week, in hazardous confined spaces.

While at his home station, Bradley Air National Guard Base, McPherson proactively supported readiness training as an instructor in Region 1. He instructed 127 aviation package deployers before their deployment, coordinating needs for personnel from seven states. As a result, 638 personnel received Ready Airman Training, meeting all Mission Ready Airmen requirements.

McPherson attends the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. He aims to blend his current Real Estate business background with his Air Force hazardous material response knowledge to accomplish environmental remediation projects, which restore community spaces, reduce environmental hazards, and bring new employment.


Tech. Sgt. Diego Solano, Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year

Total years of service:  17

Date joined the Connecticut Air National Guard:  December 5, 2013

Current Unit:  103rd Security Forces Squadron

Official Duty Title:  Flight Sergeant/Investigations NCOIC

Hometown:  Simsbury, Conn.

Why do you serve? 

“My parents immigrated from Costa Rica and my service is a way to thank them and this country for the opportunities we have been given.”

Tech. Sgt. Diego Solano was tasked by Headquarters Air Force A4 to index a 31-year backlog in criminal cases. While only assigned 29 cases, he completed 881, which accounted for 32% of all Air National Guard cases. His efforts resulted in 100 percent compliance with the Air Force/A4 task order. Because of his substantial contribution, Solano was hand-picked by the Chief of Air National Guard, Security Forces to serve as the Air Guard representative for the Department of the Air Force Criminal Justice Information Cell Security Forces Indexing Task Force.

As the Air National Guard Representative for the Security Forces Indexing Task Force, Solano led a 10-defender team on a 120-day tour in support of the AF/A4 TASKORD. Under his leadership, his team achieved 100 percent compliance with three critical Department of Defense Inspector General items while Solano personally ensured final disposition of 86 criminal cases. Ultimately, his team's information was compiled with Federal Bureau of Instigations data, which led to the protection of individual’s rights while also bolstering public safety by limiting convicted criminal access to arms and ammunition.

Furthermore, Solano ensured the final review and archive of 1,336 criminal cases while streamlining the Freedom of Information Act process. His astute efforts identified 819 records that required reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 86 cases that required a federal disposition, and 215 records that required removal from the federal database, effectively driving down unacceptable risk to the United States Air Force.

Solano’s knowledge and organizational skills helped shape monthly briefings to the Under Secretary of the Air Force. The briefings aided in the approval of numerous technical investments that enhanced tracking, reviewing, and reporting of criminal history record information. Solano’s Indexing Task Force team was the first to test and validate a $450,000 digital indexing process that queried seven databases, leading to streamlined processing and increased efficiency.


Master Sgt. Brian Sheldon, Outstanding Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year

Total years of service:  21

Date joined the Connecticut Air National Guard:  January 22, 2002      

Current Unit:  103rd Operations Group

Official Duty Title:  Flight Engineer           

Hometown:  West Suffield, Connecticut

Why do you serve?

“I joined the Connecticut Air National Guard four months after Sept 11, 2001, wanting to serve my country following the horrific terrorist attacks. Over the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to travel the world and participate in multiple deployments with incredible people. I am proud to be part of such a selfless team, dedicated to our families and our communities.” 

Master Sgt. Brian Sheldon served as the 103rd Operations Group Unit Deployment Manager, directly overseeing the preparation and successful deployment of 65 members and more than 11,000 pounds of cargo to Africa.

Sheldon effectively managed the readiness training of 70 additional personnel ensuring unit upgrade training for junior airmen was accomplished while preparing for deployment.  During this time, Sheldon was also selected as the Interim Flight Engineer Superintendent and, through his superb leadership and mentorship, he ensured that the flight engineer section was 100 percent trained, equipped and mission-focused for deployment to a new AOR.

While deployed to the Horn of Africa in support of Operation Octave Quartz, Sheldon successfully executed 31 combat and combat support sorties over 77.9 hours, delivering 417 passengers and 270,000 pounds of cargo to the war effort. Validating real-world application of Agile Combat Employment procedures, he delivered over 24,000 pounds of critical fuel, utilizing specialized fueling operations to resupply forward operating base aircraft. These actions directly contributed to the force’s ability to defeat Al-Shabaab fighters.  Additionally, Sheldon participated in the functional check flights of all four deployed aircraft following a fleet-wide grounding, directly restoring the first C-130Hs back into combat. Finally, Sheldon expertly performed Connecticut Air National Guard's first ever hostile environment repair procedure on a crippled aircraft engine, leading to the quick repair and safe recovery of the aircraft, 12 passengers and nine aircrew members from an austere combat location. 

During his deployment, Sheldon also selflessly volunteered for a position as the deployed 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron First Sergeant for several weeks, overseeing the seamless transition of more than 300 personnel and the welfare of 148 rogue warriors.  As a member of the Joint Senior Enlisted Leadership Council, Sheldon coordinated with sister services to recognize award-winning Junior NCOs and provide valuable mentoring sessions.  


Master Sgt. Joshua Russo, Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year

Total Years of Service? 17

Date joined the Connecticut Air National Guard: March 2015

Current Unit: 103rd Maintenance Group

Official Duty Title: Maintenance Group First Sergeant

Hometown: Southington, Conn.

Why do you serve?

“I serve to give back. The Air Force has given me so many different opportunities, experiences, and challenges and I want to be able to contribute to that tradition of service and excellence for the new generation of airmen.” 

Master Sgt. Joshua Russo is a talented dual-hatted first sergeant, who is responsible for the welfare of airmen in the 103rd Maintenance Group and 103rd Air Control Squadron. He expertly provides service to six group and squadron commanders and more than 500 airmen.

Russo was a crucial element in the successful deployment and redeployment of 158 103rd ACS members for contingency operations. He facilitated the member's reintegration upon return, ensuring that all of their needs were met.

Russo was hand-selected to be MXG Air Expeditionary Force First Sergeant during the unit's first Africa Command deployment. His high-engagement leadership style proved instrumental in preparing for the deployment, ultimately delivering 100 percent mission-ready airmen to the AOR on time.

While deployed, Russo coordinated three Red Cross emergency calls, facilitating the safe return of three deployed members to the United States within 24 hours, reuniting the members with their families during a time of need.

During his deployment, Russo also used his skills as a Chef to plan and execute a morale dinner for 253 joint forces troops at Chabelley Field. His actions increased morale and improved inter-service relations. Furthermore, Russo is a natural coach and motivator; he inspired deployed squadron personnel to set health, weight loss, work out, and nutrition goals, ensuring airmen were fit to fight.

Russo has proven himself to be an invaluable enlisted leader in the 103rd Airlift Wing. In 2022, he chaired First Sergeant Council selection boards for which he streamlined the scoring process and protocols, conducting eight boards to fill mission-critical slots.

Additionally, Russo trained and mentored four new Additional Duty First Sergeants for the 103rd, increasing wing first sergeant support capability by two-fold. Lastly, Russo authored and taught NCO development courses, educating 45 NCOs with leadership insights and provided resources, including 50 hours of one-on-one mentorship.

When off-duty, Russo remains committed to his community; he volunteers at Caritas Youth Center, donating time, food, and clothing to more than 30 homeless youth.