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2015 Air Force Times Airman of the Year

July 20, 2015 (Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy/Air Force)

Senior Airman Joseph Moreland isn't your typical communications airman.

A tactical cyber systems operator with the 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron, Moreland has deployed three times since joining the Air Force in December 2011. And on his last deployment last year, his office wasn't on a base in Afghanistan; it was riding alongside special operations troops to austere locations, setting up crucial communications lines to assist in high-value missions.

"I've never seen everything come together so smoothly," Moreland said of his work setting up communications for Air Force and Army special operators in the field. "It's like a 1,000-piece puzzle, but you have all the pieces and they all fall right into place. I've never seen it happen that smoothly before."

Moreland's commanders highlighted his work in 2014 in Afghanistan in nomination forms, saying he went above and beyond his rank to a level where he should be recognized as the 2015 Air Force Times Airman of the Year.

"[Senior Airman] Moreland, while young, is a leader. Plain and simple," said Col. Christopher Ireland, who commanded Moreland during his recent deployment. "He embraced his combat role in Afghanistan, and we empowered him with responsibility and authority beyond his rank."

Ireland said that during his time in Afghanistan, Moreland was responsible for creating new tactical communications for the Special Operations Air Component to control air and ground assets. He forward deployed multiple times in austere locations to create the only communications source for special operations joint task force personnel, including providing communications on a mission to secure 3,373 ballot boxes for the Afghan presidential election.

During his deployment, an Army Special Forces team's fiber optic line was destroyed, "essentially isolating them from the rest of the world." Moreland forward deployed to their unit, and he had their communications back up and running within 24 hours. He set up an alternate Joint Special Operations Center in the event of an evacuation of the special operations headquarters.

He also led a project to install 20 wired and six wireless Internet suites for more than 500 military dorm residents at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

Earlier, he was the comm person for the first-ever 1st SOW reintegration team to go to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The "Operation Homecoming" initiative aimed to speed up in-processing for members returning home from deployment.

"While he works tirelessly to make the most of every training opportunity, Airman Moreland understands what it means to be part of a team," Ireland said. "He transforms his opportunities to benefit the entire flight, training other airmen so they are prepared to deploy for any unique mission."

Moreland, from Toledo, Ohio, joined the Air Force in 2011, wanting a change of pace after working in a warehouse. After basic training, his career field options were communications or intelligence. He went the communications route, and "by luck of the draw" was assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida, where he ended up working extensively with special operations, including the use of advanced equipment and extensive training missions.

"In my schooling, when the special operations section came up, they had all the equipment that we'd possibly be touching. But they said 'Oh, you're never going to use it. Let's skip it,'" Moreland said. "And I was the only one to get orders there. I remember getting my survey when I got [to Hurlburt] about my tech school, and I was like 'Yeah, you probably shouldn't skip that section anymore.'''

Moreland lives near Hurlburt in Niceville, Florida, with his wife, Kayla, and daughter, 11/2-year old Paisley. Outside of long days at work, Moreland volunteers with an animal rescue facility and coaches T-ball.

Recently, he coordinated a volunteer effort following flooding in the area, leading eight volunteers and saving about $50,000 in goods. And he coordinated a Combined Federal Campaign fundraiser last year to raise hundreds of dollars for military charities.

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