AFSOC Airman named one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year

  • Published
  • By Rachel Arroyo
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
An Air Force Special Operations Command Special Tactics Airman was selected as one of the 2013 Air Force 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.

Tech. Sgt. Jason Payne, a combat controller assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing, spent approximately 200 days of 2012 away from home station and has been on nine deployments since joining the Air Force in 2001.

Payne said he was honored to be selected as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year but that a number of his Special Tactics teammates could easily be in his place.

"I feel like this award selection depends on many events," Payne said. "A lot of the guys could be here had these events happened to them."

Some of these events include controlling more than 130 aircraft during high-risk assaults downrange, pursuing the Taliban into the heart of the icy Hindu Kush Mountains and securing a helicopter landing zone in open terrain so casualty evacuation airlift could extract a critically wounded U.S. Navy SEAL.

Since 1986, 23 Special Tactics Airmen have earned Air Force 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year honors including 11 since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I'm incredibly proud of Tech. Sgt. Payne," said Col. Robert Armfield, 24th Special Operations Wing commander. "His valorous actions as a combat controller represent the best of the Air Force and our core values."

To Payne, supporting his teammates is among the most important aspects of his job.

He took a leadership role assisting teammates and spouses after three of his fellow combat controllers lost their lives along with 27 other U.S. servicemen, seven Afghan commandos and one civilian interpreter when their CH-47 Chinook crashed in Afghanistan Aug. 6, 2011.

When asked how he deals with the tough nature of much of the work he and his coworkers do, Payne says it comes down to "being flexible, having that 'never quit' attitude and constantly driving forward."

A friend and teammate of Payne's, retired Tech. Sgt. Jack Fanning, was involved in an accident during jump training in 2010 that left him with spinal paralysis. Payne drew on that 'never quit' ethos to serve as his caregiver for a portion of his recovery and still keeps in contact, making an effort to get in touch with Fanning monthly.

Prior to joining the Air Force, Payne, 37, served as a Reconnaissance Marine. He decided to cross services after talking to a friend in the Special Tactics community.

"I was attracted to the breadth of capabilities and what types of missions you can be involved in as a combat controller," Payne said.

Combat controllers deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to seize airfields and establish assault zones while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, close air support, command and control, direct action, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.

Payne, a graduate of Woodham High School in Pensacola, Fla., always knew he wanted an active, adventurous career either playing football or serving in the military.

An outside linebacker at Woodham, Payne walked onto the University of South Alabama football team, playing for one season while serving in the Marine Corps Reserve. After that first season, he realized he enjoyed the military more and decided to become an active duty Marine and, later, an Airman.

In addition to being recognized as one of the 2013 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, Payne has earned four Bronze Star Medals, three with valor, one Joint Commendation Medal with valor, one Air Force Commendation Medal with valor, three Air Force Achievement Medals, one Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and one Air Force Combat Action Medal.