A Labor Day salute to our everyday heroes

by Col. Mike Monson
86th Airlift Wing Mission Support Group commander

As we celebrate Labor Day Monday, I encourage you to reflect on what the day means to you. Beyond marking the traditional end of summer, the start of the NFL regular season and the last day my wife can fashionably wear white, Labor Day, which was first observed on Sept. 5, 1882, is a way to recognize the hard work and labor of union employees. 

Following the American industrial revolution of the 1800s, thousands of mining, factory, mill and railway workers organized to seek better working conditions. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland, in an attempt to appease the unions, made it official that the first Monday in September would be reserved as the “workingman’s holiday.” Early Labor Day celebrations were marked with parades and political speeches to ensure our everyday heroes ― those in the trenches who helped turn the U.S. into a global economic powerhouse by the turn of the 19th century ― would be duly recognized. 

In and around the KMC, there are many examples of everyday heroes taking care of people, exuding excellence and making the mission happen.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Zarate and his dedicated team of food service workers at the Rhineland dining facility take pride in the outstanding support they provide to Team Ramstein. They love to showcase their culinary talents for special events, like their Mongolian Barbecue days and quarterly birthday meals. Their day starts at 4:45 a.m. when they prepare breakfast for hundreds, and it doesn’t stop until late in the day when the job is done. Zarate and his four-person team prepare and serve more than 650 meals a day, 365 days a year, and they do it with a smile.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Budniewski left his hometown of Dunkirk, N.Y., in 1997 to enlist in the Marines. Wanting to “aim higher,” he joined the Air Force in 2002 and is now a cyber warrior with the 86th Communications Squadron.

Today, Budniewski oversees the second largest communications security account in the Department of Defense while managing, storing and dispatching 9,500 cryptographic items valued at more than $20 million. We count on him to be correct 100 percent of the time in his job. You probably won’t ever read about him in Air and Space Power Journal, but his work is absolutely essential to decision makers and warfighters downrange who depend on complete communication and computer security for executing their national security missions.

How often do you get a chance to impact the living conditions of 4,500 families? Rita Stauch, a contracting specialist with the 700th Contracting Squadron, did just that by researching, preparing and awarding more than $3.5 million in furniture, appliances and equipment contracts for the KMC Housing Office in July. Facing a Headquarters Air Force deadline to obligate the funds before July 31, she worked overtime to ensure Army, Air Force and DOD families moving to the KMC will receive new loaner beds, couches, microwaves and refrigerators this fall.

Zarate, Budniewski and Stauch are just a few examples of great Airmen who go above and beyond their job description every day to ensure others are taken care of and missions are executable. They are our KMC warriors who often go overlooked. As we celebrate Labor Day, join me in recognizing and saluting all of our KMC everyday heroes by thanking them for their hard work, dedication and service.