U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Christopher Thao, 65th Air Base Squadron network operations technician, was inspired to join the military by the legacy of his family members who fought in the Vietnam War.
“For me, it was just the torch being passed down,” Thao said. “A lot of our uncles and grandparents died. They fought on the militia side with the Americans during the war and rescued their families to go live in America. If they could do that, I thought I could join too.”
When Thao walked into a recruiter’s office in 2019, he was ready to accept any job that would get him into the Air Force as soon as possible. He had previous experience with information technology, which helped him select a career in cyber systems operations.
“I told myself if I joined, I would throw in 110 percent every day no matter how hard or easy the day was,” Thao said.
Since leaving for Basic Military Training in October 2019, Thao hit the ground running, living up to the expectation he set for himself by working to be better than he was the day before.
While stationed at his first base, Schriever Space Force Base, Colo., Thao earned Senior Airman below-the-zone, a program allowing Airmen to sew on Senior Airman six months early. Afterward, he implemented a mock BTZ board system, assisting five other Airmen to promote.
Thao also implemented a $1.2 million virtual desktop infrastructure system within a week. The system works by installing multiple servers which host virtual machines, creating a main image that everybody on the installation can log into allowing the network to function much faster through automation.
Along with making physical improvements to the base, Thao taught resilience classes to new Airmen at the Schriever SFB First Term Airmen Course to build morale and future leaders.
“I taught them some ways to stay resilient if they are facing a challenge or obstacle,” Thao said. “Life is hard, and some people have a hard time navigating through that. Maybe if they get one tool they can use, it can save them some time and pain.”
Thao was recently selected as one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for his accomplishments while stationed at Schriever SFB.
“It feels surreal,” Thao said. “I never even thought of becoming one. It never was a goal of mine. I didn’t think I was good enough to be chosen to be honest, I just wanted to be better than I was yesterday and help people do the same.”
Not only does Thao continue to improve himself professionally, but he focuses on making himself better outside of work.
“Some personal achievements of mine I never thought I could accomplish are running a half marathon and climbing multiple 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado,” Thao said. “Prior to joining the Air Force, I could barely run a fourth of a mile.”
Thao is the definition of what it means to be an outstanding Airman and leader.
“He is a great friend, one of my closest friends in the military,” said Senior Airman Rachel Wangrycht, 51st Communications Squadron cyber operations technician. “He supports and cares about everyone. All I can say is if you hear the name Christopher Thao, I suggest you get to know him. The guy is really amazing.”