Cinching down the Wyoming Air National Guard Airman of the Year award required a stalwart work ethic, commendable study habits and a mind for community service — but most of all, it required support from family and friends.
“I had the support and the backing of everyone in my squad and my husband and family,” said Airman 1st Class Jessica Bunch, who was named WYANG 2018 Airman of the Year on Jan. 12. “You really can’t do Airman of the Year without that support.”
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Bunch moved to Laramie in 2011 to attend post-secondary school. Shortly thereafter, she graduated from Laramie County Community College with an associates degree in nursing. Two years ago, she joined the WYANG so she could use the service benefits to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming.
“I only have an associates degree, so to do what I want to do in nursing, I’d have to have a bachelor’s,” Bunch explained. “I grew up with a family that had a military background and joining up offered educational opportunities.”
After discussing her options with her husband, who is also a veteran, Bunch said they decided she would sign up for the security forces rather than a medical occupation.
“It’s a choice my husband and I made together,” she said. “Security forces allowed me to be active and helping people but not be away from home too much.”
Bunch said her nomination was largely based on her performance during basic training and occupational training from November 2017-April 2018.
“I worked very hard at my training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonino, Texas,” she said. “Earning Airman of the Year had a lot to do with working hard, and always going above and beyond whatever task they asked me to do. I studied every night, and my test scores were better than most of my class.”
High test scores and good reviews from her training cadre weren’t enough to win the nomination, however. She said the award was also based on physical fitness and community service.
“There is a recommendation portion, (physical training) scores are included, participation in your unit, but also participation in guard events throughout the community,” Bunch explained. “I did several recruiting events with WYANG throughout the year. And, I helped with Meals on Wheels in Laramie when I was in town.”
When she isn’t drilling with her squad or attending training, Bunch said she works at a hospital in southern Colorado.
“I’m also involved here at the hospital in Pueblo, Colorado,” she said. “We do a lot of health-safety events for employees and the community.”
Bunch’s busy schedule keeps her away from home in Laramie more often than she would like, but when she is in town, Bunch said she and her husband enjoy being outdoors.
“We like to hunt, camp and hike — the typical Laramie things to do,” she said, explaining the couple typically hunts deer and elk. “Being in physical shape is obviously a benefit. But my unit also shoots at the range on a routine basis, which allows me keep up on my shooting skills for hunting season.”
As Bunch progresses toward her goals of earning a bachelor’s degree, accepting a commission and possibly changing her military occupation to a nurse attached to an aerial medical evacuation unit, she said the Airman of the Year award could help be selected for promotions and career slots.
“For my career, it’s going to be something that allows me to put myself ahead when I’m competing for a higher pay-grade spot,” she said. “It’s also something that bolsters my resume.”
No matter which path she chooses, Bunch said she’s thankful to have the support of her family.
“My husband has been by my side all the way,” she said. “He’s extremely supportive and always pushes me to take the extra step.”