Focus on the Force: Compassionate controller very passionate about her job

Senior Airman Tonya Saenz, 341st Security Forces Squadron Base Defense Operations Center controller, looks up information for a customer on the phone March 24. (U.S. Air Force photo/Valerie Mullett)

Senior Airman Tonya Saenz, 341st Security Forces Squadron Base Defense Operations Center controller, looks up information for a customer on the phone March 24. (U.S. Air Force photo/Valerie Mullett)

Senior Airman Tonya Saenz completes some of her daily paperwork. She is one of only three Airmen selected to work with the noncommissioned officers that staff the BDOC. She was also selected as this year's 341st Missile Wing Airman of the Year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Valerie Mullett)

Senior Airman Tonya Saenz completes some of her daily paperwork. She is one of only three Airmen selected to work with the noncommissioned officers that staff the BDOC. She was also selected as this year's 341st Missile Wing Airman of the Year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Valerie Mullett)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Everyone knows to dial 9-1-1 when faced with an emergency situation, however very few know who the voice is on the other end of the line taking that important call.

For one Air Force Global Strike Command security forces member here, that job has become one of her keys to success.

Senior Airman Tonya Saenz is a base defense operations center controller and a major part of her duty day is answering the phone - including the 9-1-1 calls - while pulling a 12-hour shift. Her day begins at 4:30 in the morning when she reports to the armory to draw her weapon. Following that, she heads to the BDOC co-located in the fire department by 5:30 a.m. for changeover from the swing shift crew. She then prepares for the day ahead.

"Throughout the day, I monitor the alarm system, which accounts for all Protection Level 4 resources on base," she said. "I also answer any 9-1-1 calls that come in for various emergencies, mostly traffic accidents, as well as calls for a variety of information from the base populace."

Every one of the calls has to be logged and she is responsible for doing that throughout the day as well.

"My day in BDOC ends around 5:30 p.m., then I turn my weapon back in to the armory and go home around 6 p.m," she said.

Although the shifts may be long, Airman Saenz finds them rewarding.

"My favorite thing about my job is getting to help people no matter how small of a task it might be," she said. "I also really enjoy getting to work with the great people that I do."

Airman Saenz graduated from Centerpoint High School in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2006. She joined the Air Force in January 2007 and has been stationed at Malmstrom since July of the same year. This has been her only duty station and it has been a good fit.

As a member of the 341st Security Forces Squadron, she has served as a response force leader in the Weapons Storage Area; she has worked as an installation entry controller and also as an installation patrolman before being selected for her current position. She also continues to function as an installation patrolman.

Airman Saenz recently completed her Community College of the Air Force degree in criminal justice and is currently pursuing a bachelor of science degree in the same subject.

The soon-to-be NCO also recently completed Airman Leadership School where she was named the prestigious John L. Levitow Award winner. This award is the highest honor presented to a graduate of Air Force enlisted professional military education, which includes ALS, the NCO Academy and the Senior NCO Academy.

"ALS was a lot of hard work and to know that all of it paid off was an amazing feeling," she said of winning the award.

While working 12-plus hours and going to school leaves little extra time, Airman Saenz manages to squeeze some fun in here and there.

"I like to spend time with my friends, whether that be going to a movie, working out or just hanging out," she said. "I also enjoy reading and taking classes so a lot of my off-duty time goes towards that."

Balancing the disciplines of work-grow-play have created a successful blend for this Airmen and being successful is very important to her.

"I have to be successful in the job I do, not only for myself, but for the rest of the base populace," she said. "If I, or any other person in my duty position - regardless of rank - fail at the job I do, lives are at stake. That is enough motivation for me to be successful."

As for the future, the Air Force is her chosen path to follow. She hopes to commission when she completes her degree and serve wearing the blue uniform or ABUs for 20 years.

In the near future, she awaits the return of her husband, Staff Sgt. Steven Saenz, who is currently serving a one-year tour in Korea. Upon his return in February 2012, the two will relocate to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, where the security forces there will gain the 341st Missile Wing's 2010 Airman of the Year.

Until that time, she'll continue to be that caring controller on the other end of the phone line.