Celebrating leaders in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Eve Daugherty
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

An under-desk treadmill quietly hums in the background of keyboard chattering from above in the office of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Juana Schoonmaker, 86th Airlift Wing Ramstein Law Center noncommissioned officer in charge of military justice. Her steady strides allow her to keep her balance while she works, unruffled by the moving belt beneath her feet. Towering stacks of documents are neatly arranged on a table nearby, set in a backdrop of memoirs from prior duty stations and artwork from her children. The most recent item to be put on display in Schoonmaker’s office is a glass trophy, indicating she is the recipient of the 86th Airlift Wing 2023 NCO of the year award.

Paralegals hold an instrumental role in the U.S. Air Force, providing critical support in all judicial and nonjudicial matters. This supporting role is often executed behind the scenes in a position with low visibility.

“I was shocked," said Schoonmaker. “There are so many people doing amazing things throughout the wing. It's humbling to know that I was among great peers in competing for this award.”

Schoonmaker has demonstrated a high degree of commitment to service and excellence leading to this award nomination. In 2023, she was put in charge of two sections of the 86th AW Ramstein Law Center. Both roles, which are typically each held by senior noncommissioned officers, she single handedly filled as a technical sergeant.

Her dedication and drive have resulted in many other impressive accomplishments including her efforts that revolutionized training for paralegals Air Force wide, and her efforts founding the Joint Exceptional Family Member Connections Project. Schoonmaker helped obtain $150,000 in funding to improve assistance and inclusivity for Exceptional Family Member Program families United States European Command wide. She did this all while working towards earning her second master’s degree.

The list of Schoonmaker’s notable achievements continues on, but one of her attributes that outshines any trophy on display is her passion for the people around her.

On several occasions, Schoonmaker and her family spent the majority of their weekends driving to other cities to support Senior Airman Nicholas Mendez, 86th AW Ramstein Law Center general law paralegal, while he played baseball for a local team.

“It meant a lot to me as a single Airman living alone overseas for the first time,” said Mendez. “She showed me how it feels to have leadership that deeply cares about their Airmen.”

The core values of the U.S. Air Force serve a moral compass for Airmen as they navigate their military careers. A large part of the value “integrity first,” is accountability. Schoonmaker feels supporting Airmen while holding them accountable is a valuable skill that will garnish mutual respect and teach discipline.

“Juana isn’t shy about advocating for her Airmen and prioritizes their success, wants, and needs,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dane Ryan, 86th Airlift Wing Ramstein Law Center superintendent. “You see a lot of people do this, but where she shines is the fact that she doesn’t let anyone skate by. If you’re working with Juana, you’ve got to be on your game because she will be, too.”

Schoonmaker embodies all the core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Her devotion to her job, team and the community, continues to propel her and those around her forward.

“As a senior noncommissioned officer, I look for qualities in my NCOs like confidence, competence, respect, humility, accountability and trustworthiness,” said Ryan. “Juana has every one of those traits.”

For Schoonmaker, working hard and caring for others comes naturally. She encourages leaders at all levels to take care of themselves, their people, and their mission to fly, fight, and win.