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Nursing student wins Idaho Air National Guard Outstanding Airman of the Year

Escarzaga stands smiling between two senior Air National Guard officers and holds a large plaque.

Martha Escarzaga is in her first semester of the on-campus nursing program. She’s also a senior airman in Idaho’s Air National Guard, and on Jan. 19, she won the 2023 Outstanding Airman of the Year award for the 124th Fighter Wing.

Nominations for the award are organized in a comprehensive portfolio – known as a “packet” – of an airman’s accomplishments and contributions through the year.

Elements of Escarzaga’s packet include being a wing representative at Gov. Brad Little’s 2023 inauguration ceremony, achieving a perfect score on her physical fitness test and being chosen to attend the Enlisted Leadership Symposium in Alexandria, Virginia.

It also included Escarzaga’s work in two different international temporary duty stations. She was selected to travel to Germany to participate in a defensive training exercise with 35 other Air National Guard units and the German Luftwaffe to demonstrate multinational cooperation and interoperability.

Escarzaga was also selected to travel to Spain in July for Silver Flag, a combat-support training exercise. It was during this assignment that she was specifically identified as an exceptional individual and was ‘coined.’

High ranking individuals in the Air Force have their own coin which symbolizes them and their leadership. When they recognize another airman excelling in an area, they can choose to officially hand a personalized coin to the individual that excelled. It’s a sign of honor from leaders as a way to recognize the work of other airmen.

Since winning Outstanding Airman of the Year at the wing level, Escarzaga’s nomination packet now proceeds to the regional level.

Beyond the Guard

As a first generation Mexican American, Escarzaga joined the Air National Guard because she wanted to “preserve freedom, in terms of individuality and the opportunities that are presented here in America,” she said.

Escarzaga holds a large bell-like award and smiles with seven other airmen in dress uniform.
Escarzaga (center) works in the mission supply group, pictured here winning the Spirit Award at the Outstanding Airman of the Year banquet in January.

Escarzaga’s regular duties with the 124th are in the mission supply group, often working closely with those who maintain the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. But her day-to-day job varies as she helps individuals issue all kinds of supplies, from military uniforms and chemical gear to aircraft parts for the A-10s.

Escarzaga’s nomination packet also includes activities outside of the Air National Guard. It lists her contributions as a civilian, such as her position as secretary of the running club at Boise State and involvement with St. Paul’s Student Center.

Escarzaga admits that balancing her regular Air National Guard duties with nursing school isn’t always easy. But she appreciates how both entities understand and respect her responsibilities as both a student and an airman.

“Both parties are very accommodating,” she said.

Escarzaga decided to pursue nursing education after a time when her grandmother – who spoke very little English – was hospitalized.

“Between school and work, there was only so much time that we could spend with her and translate her needs,” Escarzaga said. “She would go hours without properly expressing what she needed or people just not talking to her. I want to help increase the Spanish speakers in healthcare.”