Master Sgt. David Keirns saw the geese drifting above the flight line just after the fully-loaded C-5 took off from Naval Station Rota, Spain. Then came the unmistakable sound of a bird strike – like something stuck in a lawn mower.
As production superintendent, Keirns was responsible for coordinating emergency response as the massive C-5 made an emergency landing, its brakes locked, engine spitting and landing gear in flames.
“It could have been catastrophic,” said Chief Master Sgt. Timothy DeBeaux, squadron superintendent. “I wouldn’t want to think about if we had a less capable person in charge that night.”
The C-5 sustained more than $2 million in damage, but no one was injured.
It was April 19, 2013 – Keirns’ first night back on duty following a 365-day voluntary deployment to Afghanistan.
In Kabul, Keirns took on an astounding array of missions and duties. He served as an air adviser tasked with developing a technical school to train aircraft maintainers for the Afghan air force. A jet mechanic by trade, he ultimately trained 366 students, tripling the number of aircraft maintenance instructors in the Afghan air force. Keirns also saw to the construction of Mi-17 simulators using scrap parts – saving $7.9 million in training aid costs. And all the while, he was in charge of the Afghan interpreters.
While he could have held his war-zone contributions to those valuable efforts, he volunteered for duty outside the wire, leading 25 convoys and assisting with many others. He also volunteered for 22 flight overwatch missions, flying to 14 forward operating bases.
“Without a doubt, his work developing the next generation to ensure they, too, are the premiere fighting force is his greatest contribution.”
Lt. Col. Christopher M. Cunniff, commander, 725th Air Mobility Squadron
As lead section chief for the 725th Air Mobility Squadron at Rota, Keirns leads four senior noncommissioned officers who manage 120 airmen supporting aircraft headed to and from Europe, Asia and Africa.
He is also one of four founding members of “Rota 25,” a program aimed at providing mentorship to new sailors, Marines and airmen. The “Rota 25” curriculum covers 10 Department of Defense climate programs and reinforces core values to enlisted members 25 and younger, a group often vulnerable to high-risk behavior. Since the program was developed in 2013, the more than 180 who have completed the program have stayed out of trouble.
Keirns’ role in “Rota 25” is a testament to what his superiors see as his greatest contribution: developing the next generation of Air Force leaders. Though December retention boards left Keirns facing almost certain involuntary retirement, he has not strayed from his dedication to helping fellow airmen and the Air Force succeed.
“Instead of going through the motions like everybody else and dealing with the what-ifs, he is calm and steadfast, remaining professional and still doing the job,” said Tech. Sgt. Eduardo Morales. “He said, ‘I have a job to do. The rest will take care of itself.’ It was about performing the mission. We all followed suit.”