By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Then-Staff Sgt. Jillian Thompson knew the 50th Space Wing Annual Awards banquet was going to be a special night for her. She just didn’t know exactly how special it was going to be.
Thompson found out that afternoon that she had been selected as the winner of the Air Force Financial Management Educator of the Year for 2014. She didn’t know she was going to receive her technical sergeant stripe that night until it was given to her by base leadership.
“At first, I thought they were just goofing around because they had found out about the Air Force award,” Thompson said. “I had no idea, I was blown away. I don’t even know that there are words to describe that feeling.”
Thompson’s promotion was awarded as part of the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program. She knew her supervisor had put in the nomination package, but thought that she had not been selected. She said the promotion was a complete surprise.
“Thompson joined the 50th Comptroller Squadron team in the summer of 2014, and this avid distance racer hit the ground running,” said Lt. Col Kenneth Walker, 50th Comptroller Squadron commander. “She was critical to the wing’s fiscal year 2014 closeout effort, has vastly improved our unit training program and is single-handedly implementing a women’s professional development forum for the wing.”
According to Air Force Instruction 36-2502, the STEP program was designed to provide a means to promote Airmen, to staff sergeant, technical sergeant or master sergeant, for “compelling, although perhaps not quantifiable, reasons.”
“It was incredible to learn of Sergeant Thompson’s well deserved Air Force level award recognition and STEP promotion on the same day,” Walker said. “She’s an incredible Airman and we’re proud to say she’s on our team!”
Of course, the promotion was just icing on the cake for what was already a special night for Thompson. She spent the bulk of 2014 teaching at the Army Financial Management School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“It was a special duty assignment that was advertised,” she said. “I called and asked about it, they picked me to go and I worked for them for about three years.”
During that time, Thompson was responsible for teaching three diverse groups of students. She taught the Army Basic Officer Leadership course for all new second lieutenants coming into finance for the Army, the Reserve Captain’s Career course for new Reserve captains in financial management and the Planning, Program, Budget and Execution course, which is open to any rank.
Thompson said her role as an instructor at an Army school served as a learning experience as well.
“The Army does things completely different than the Air Force does,” Thompson said. “You have to kind of relearn something you’re going to teach from someone else.”
The process of seeing students come into the ABOL course with either no, or limited, knowledge of being a finance officer and leaving 12 weeks later fully prepared for their job was special for Thompson.
“You have students for 12 weeks and they kind of become your kids,” she said. “You see them come in not knowing anything, then they leave and they’re going to go out to the world as Army finance officers. Hopefully I taught them something and even though you’re happy to see them go, you’re sad too.”
All of these things played a part in Thompson winning the AFFM Educator of the Year award; however, they also made winning the award even more surprising to her.
“I didn’t think I would win (at Air Force level) because I didn’t serve in a traditional Air Force educator role,” she said. “What I did was completely different, and I worked for the Army, not the Air Force.”
Winning an Air Force-level award and getting STEP promoted in the same day served as a culmination of Thompson’s eight years of hard work, and ranks right up there with her family on her list of lifetime achievements.
“That’s way up there, it’s pretty huge,” Thompson said. “To win the Air Force award and STEP promotion in the same day, I don’t know that I could really have a bigger day than that, other than with my kids.”