By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Growing up in a Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood, Tech. Sgt. Ryan Gangadeen learned early on to work hard for what he wanted. He had to. New York imbues a competitive essence — one has to work hard to stand out in a metropolis of more than 8 million people.
“If you want something really bad, you have to work for it,” he said. “You have to go to places where others won’t go and do things others won’t dare do.”
Gangadeen’s mild-mannered voice defied the competitive personality in him, but the way in which he uttered those words revealed a conviction of a hard working Airman. He was being reflective, from the time when he was growing up in the Big Apple to now being selected as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
“New York instills a lot of traits in you; it makes you hungry,” he said.
Though he lived in a competitive environment, he always came back to his family at the end of the day. His family was always there to guide him, which kept him away from bad situations. While most high school students would hang out in the streets after classes, Gangadeen would work at their family business.
“I have two older brothers and one younger sister,” he said. “There was never a rivalry between and among us. Living in a place like New York, we have to stick together as a family. We pick each other up.”
Gangadeen could have stayed in the city. He could have pursued opportunities after graduating from Samuel J. Tilden High School in 2001. He could have helped with his family’s realty business. However, he left due to unfortunate reasons.
“Prior to my enlistment, five of my friends all died within one year,” Gangadeen said. “It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a rude-awakening moment. I felt I had to get out.”
He decided to join the Air Force; the first in his family. He doesn’t really remember how he learned about the service — maybe through a commercial or a poster somewhere — however, he had always had the love for flight.
“The Air Force’s name itself has always had a ring about it,” Gangadeen said. “It is very prestigious. I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
When he was 19, he left New York for basic military training in March 2001 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. After attending technical school to be a KC-135 Stratotanker flying crew chief, he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
Following five deployments and temporary duties, he yearned for more challenges. Though he loved his job, he retrained into the satellite operator career field in 2007.
“Space has afforded me an opportunity to push myself beyond what I even thought I was capable of,” Gangadeen said. “The amount of responsibility the Air Force places even on the youngest operators and what they are about to accomplish is a direct correlation to the quality of fine recruits and retrainees.”
After space operator training, he was stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, where he became an orbital analyst at the 3rd Space Operations Squadron.
“As an analyst, you make sure collisions between satellites don’t happen,” Gangadeen said. “That’s probably one of the coolest parts of my space experience.”
After four years, he moved to the 1st Space Operations Squadron, again as an orbital analyst. In July 2013, he deployed to Afghanistan for 365 days as an air advisor and performed two functions — professional military education advisor to the Afghan air force and education manager to the Afghan air university.
“It was completely different from what I did here,” he said.
Prior to his deployment, he attended an advisor school for five weeks in New Jersey, where he learned everything an air advisor would do on a day-to-day basis. These include weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, the Afghan culture and language, tactical training, convoy and more.
“Air advisor is a very unique position; there is no textbook on how to be one,” Gangadeen said. “It’s taking everything you learned in your career and life, applying that to build a rapport with the Afghans and getting them to see things the way you would like them to see.”
As an air advisor, he took the knowledge he learned during the Airman Leadership School and NCO Academy and applied them to his deployment. He showed the Afghans the whole reason for professional military education and why officers and NCOs need to develop themselves as they progress through ranks. He was primarily responsible for first creating and then executing PME for the Afghan air force; he trained and oversaw 30 instructors and directed 44 courses.
Used to the fast-paced life in New York, he learned to slow down in Afghanistan — interacting with the Afghans means moving at their speed.
“You try not to overwhelm them,” Gangadeen said. “One thing you will know about the Afghans is they’ll stop you in a heartbeat and tell you to slow down.”
He did slow down when interacting with the Afghans. However, for the most part, he performed at the same pace he always had. Though he has his air advisor mission, he also had other goals.
“I spent most of my time at school,” he said.
He completed his senior NCO Academy course and one class for his master’s degree. He was also the president of the enlisted coalition council there. He also volunteered for various “outside the wire” opportunities. As such, he was directly involved with the rescue of a six-member U.S. Navy team in Afghanistan.
“While he was [deployed], he called me several times,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darren Williams, 1st Space Operations Squadron superintendent. “Ryan was overwhelmed at what he was asked to do upon arrival at his TDY location. However, as evidenced by his actions, he demonstrated fantastic resilience and undying energy.”
Williams has known the NCO for seven years now. He said the sacrifices Gangadeen made both inside and outside the wire are worth emulating.
“I believe the two biggest sacrifices we can make in the defense of our nation are to first, be willing to give our life, and second, sacrifice time away from family,” Williams said. “Ryan sacrificed time away from family and an easy argument could be made that he risked his life in the defense of our nation.”
Gangadeen’s sacrifices and hard work did not go unnoticed even to his leadership. His deployed commander advised him to throttle back a little bit, don’t do so much and overwhelm himself, in fear that he might get burned out. However, the NCO followed a principle that has helped him with everything he does.
“Be dedicated, determined and persistent,” he said. “Make a plan and stick with it. Understand that every choice is calculated because it affects the mission and everyone around you. Be persistent; whether you have long term and short term goals, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
It was this principle that recently catapulted him to be named one of the top enlisted members in the Air Force, based on their superior leadership, job performance and personal achievements. He was deployed when he learned about the news from the command chief of Air Force Space Command.
“I thought it was pretty amazing,” Gangadeen said. “I was speechless. I was actually teary eyed. When you think about it, it’s an achievement. It is essentially the highest award you can get in your career.”
Williams said Gangadeen deserved the recognition because he is always seeking opportunities to challenge himself.
“Ryan is always seeking to improve his peers and himself,” he said. “He is certainly setting the example right now. His list of personal achievements, just during the last year, is long, to include earning the John L. Levitow Award during NCO Academy, completing Joint senior NCO PME and the SNCO Course 14. No one had to motivate Ryan to attain these goals; he set his sights and then worked hard and is a better NCO and aspiring SNCO for it.”
After learning about the award, it didn’t take long before Gangadeen called one of the most important people in his life — his wife, and then, his family.
“My successes were her successes,” Gangadeen said. “Everything I do is for my family. Everything I am capable of is because they have always been with me.”
Master Sgt. Danielle Gangadeen, 50th Space Communications Squadron, could not have been prouder when she learned that her husband was one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.
“I will never forget that moment, the feeling of being so proud, excited and honored of his huge accomplishment,” Danielle said. “I really wanted to just give him the biggest hug ever to congratulate him on his tremendous achievement.”
She said her husband is one of the most motivated people she knows.
“Whatever he puts his mind to he will surely produce the best product and he places an emphasis on lifelong learning,” Danielle said.
She witnessed firsthand Gangadeen’s dedication, whether completing his bachelor’s degree in one year or starting private pilot lessons. Though he believes in perfection and being well-rounded, both on and off duty, Gangadeen never lets his drive for success overshadow the need to help others along the way.
“That is a code he lives by,” Danielle said.
The same goes for his family. Though he leads a busy life, he always sets aside time for the Gangadeen Team. He would help his two children with homework, play a board game, jump on the trampoline or just hang out with them.
“Ryan is very spontaneous, fast pace and full of surprises and we as a family are always ready to see what is next on his list,” she said. “Mikayla and Makai are what give Ryan his drive and motivation.”
With all the accolades, Gangadeen said none of these are possible without his family, friends and mentors in life.
“This award has been a direct result of the level of performance the amazing folks I work with and had the opportunity to do things with,” he said. “I am truly blessed. Those awards and achievements, they are never based on your own merits; it’s really the folks you work with. In my case, it was the folks at 1 SOPS, and the folks I worked with at 738th Air Expeditionary Squadron at Kabul. It was their work. I am just grateful.”
Looking back, the young boy did dare to do things others wouldn’t do and go to places others wouldn’t go — from New York to Colorado and Afghanistan, and to now being one of the 12 outstanding Airmen in the Air Force.