JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
The only sound in the room was a cheerful voice, sharing humorous and significant stories. The woman's eyes lit up as she talked about rewarding memories, and her face became animated - as if every gesture breathed more life into her words.
But her smile faded as she recounted one of the most pivotal moments she experienced in her career.
It was 4 a.m. when the jarring ring woke her. She had no idea who would be on the other end, but knew it must be important - it was the on-call phone.
"This is the command post," the voice said flatly. "We have a fatality."
Instantly she woke up, panic rising in her chest. Having only recently started her job, she wondered if she was prepared for what she was about to experience.
When she arrived on scene, she learned two young Airmen were involved in an alcohol-related car accident. Only one survived. She began taking investigation photos, quietly asking the young man who died, "Why? That was the dumbest thing you could've done."
The scene faded from the woman's eyes, and she paused to take a deep breath before continuing.
"It was absolutely devastating," said Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Young, 633rd Air Base Wing Safety noncommissioned officer in charge. "It just put everything in perspective that what I do matters. It's all about the education."
To Young, that experience ultimately shaped her future in safety. The combination of her love of people and her passion for education led her to become an exemplary Airman and award-winning defensive driving instructor.
"What makes her stand out the most is that she is dedicated to what our safety mission is, which is saving lives," said Master Sgt. Dawn Moninger, 633rd Air Base Wing Safety superintendent. "She takes that mission personally, and that's the difference between just doing a job and having a calling in life.
Although Young has been in the Air Force more than 15 years, her journey to become a defensive driving instructor started only three years ago, when she was retrained from her current career field.
"Safety was on the list, and I thought, 'Oh, I can do safety - AF Form 55s? That's easy,' because that's all I knew about safety," Young said. She smiled as she reflected back to her training experience. "Technical school was a rude awakening, but I started really liking it."
Young became a certified instructor at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. She began teaching driving safety after she relocated to Lages Field Azores, Portugal. Her primary students were from the First Term Airman Center, which she found to be an extremely rewarding experience.
"When I talk to my FTAC students, they say 'I appreciate the training you gave me - I was in a situation where I had to make a decision, and I chose otherwise because of your training,'" Young said. "That's the rewarding thing of it all. When you give them your personal experiences, make yourself vulnerable and open yourself to them, it makes it that much easier. Then they know it's not just another briefing."
According to Moninger, Young's positive energy and attitude has a lasting effect on her students, which makes her teaching more effective.
"She has this dynamic and charisma about her that reaches out and touches each of her students in ways that motivate them to keep themselves safe," said Moninger. "It makes a difference when it's a person who's instructing from their heart versus instructing from their head, because the people who sit in her class take in her inspiration, and it motivates them to enact in their lives what she's teaching them."
Young's dedication for teaching doesn't stop in the military classroom. She also pays for instructional materials out-of-pocket in order to teach community members off-base, hoping to instill the same driving safety lessons she teaches service members.
"We have to learn to bridge the gap with our community," Young said. "We fight for the rights of the people that don't fight next to us. If I can go to the desert and fight for them, then why can't I educate them with having this certification?"
According to Moninger, Young's dedication and passion for the safety mission is one that leaves an impression not just on her students, but her colleagues as well.
"She is a fantastic role model for my team," Moninger said. "My team is a group of professionals, but the nature of safety is that we have new NCOs that come in and they're training as a three-level, so for them to come in a see a role model of her caliber, it really sets the tone for how their training goes, and who in turn they transform into as a safety professional."
According to Tech. Sgt. Oliver K. Missick, the 633rd Air Base Wing Safety inspection program manager, Young's devotion to her colleagues touches them on a more personal level as well.
"She's very enthusiastic and very charismatic," said Missick. "It affects the office in a positive light, and trickles through the whole office. She's also very caring - we call her 'Mother Goose.'"
Moninger said that the qualities that Young possesses carry through in everything she does, and that there are many things that she does on a daily basis that go unnoticed.
"She's behind the scenes and she's not getting the kudos for all the unseen things she does," Moninger said. "It makes it especially poignant when she is recognized because that's not what she's seeking."
Young's most recent recognition was received during the 2012 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, Oct. 20. Young was awarded the 2011 Defensive Driving Courses Alive at 25 U.S. Air Force Instructor of the Year award, being recognized for her education efforts while stationed at Lages Field Azores, Portugal. The Alive at 25 course aims to educate those in vulnerable age groups, focusing on defensive driving strategies.
Young's dedication to the safety mission has garnered much recognition, including being awarded the Untied States Air Forces in Europe 2011 Federally Employed Woman Meritorious Service Award, the 65th Air Base Wing 2011 Tuskegee Airmen Military Award and the 65th Air Base Wing 2011 GEICO Military Service Award. In addition to her individual awards, Young has also been recognized in both group and mentored awards.
Although she is proud of her many accolades, receiving recognition is not what motivates Young to succeed.
"Awards are not a factor. To be awarded for something that you have a passion for and that you love to do, that's just a double positive," Young said. "It's been a humbling experience. I have a passion for people, and I love what I do. When I say I love people, it's an understatement. It's just what I do."
And with that, she smiled, filling the room with a sense of warmth and genuineness, making it clear that there could be no personality better suited to convey such a message of importance - a message with the potential to save a life.
Original content found here