Below the Zone and on the air
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Every year there are Airmen who stand out amongst their peers and perform duties beyond their rank. When Airmen demonstrate exceptional leadership, followership and hard work, both on and off duty, the Air Force recognizes and rewards their dedication. The Air Force has a special program where commanders can promote a limited number of outstanding Airman First Class (E-3) to Senior Airman (E-4) six months before they would otherwise be eligible. This program is known as the Senior Airman Below-the-Zone Promotion Program.
With only 15 percent of eligible Airmen capable of being selected for BTZ, competition for this program is fierce and determined by a review board and an award package compiled by the airman’s leadership.
At Yokota, a majority of these BTZ recipients are members of the 374th Airlift Wing but in late December 2016 one of these lucky few was selected from a tenant unit. He is Airman 1st Class Dhruv Gopinath, American Forces Network Tokyo broadcaster, president of the Yokota First Four private organization and set for promotion to Senior Airman in February 2017.
As an AFN broadcaster, Gopinath provides video documentation of historical and newsworthy events which reaches an audience spanning the entire Kanto Plain and highlights the hard work and dedication of the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines stationed throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region. In addition to video production, broadcasters assigned to an AFN unit, like Gopinath, also host radio shows and provide updates on current events through channels such as Yokota’s Eagle 810 radio station, the AFN Pacific app and the AFN Tokyo Facebook page.
“I’m always trying to be a better broadcaster and improve after every shoot and looking back on my early products I can definitely see the difference,” Gopinath said. “I don’t think I’ve got everything figured out yet and there’s still a long way to go but I believe that success is about making that progress.”
According to Gopinath, the drive to succeed has been with him since the start of his enlistment and upon learning of the BTZ program, he knew that it was something he wanted to earn. The first and most important step he took on the path to BTZ was consulting his leadership and expressing his interest in the program.
“When I talked with them the first thing they wanted to hammer home is that you’ve got to be good at your job,” Gopinath said. “It doesn’t matter what you volunteer for outside of work if you’re not good at your job you aren’t getting anything.”
While this is true, there is no doubt that the Air Force recognizes and highly encourages volunteerism and community involvement as part of the whole Airman concept. Gopinath hasn’t been slacking off on this front either. In his downtime Gopinath volunteers with the Red Cross and the Yokota First Four, on and off base, even going to Camp Fuji to spread Christmas cheer to the Marines stationed at the remote location. After participating in multiple volunteer events with the First Four, Gopinath put his name forward and was recently elected president of the organization. It was his desire to be more involved with the base and improve the quality of life for his fellow Airmen that led him to making this decision.
“When you get to your first base and you start to settle into your unit it becomes your comfort zone,” Gopinath said. “But you have to step out of that zone to excel, I had to be more than an AFN broadcaster, I wanted to truly be a part of the Yokota community.”
Gopinath admitted that it can be hard to balance multiple responsibilities but once again pointed out that a clear line of communication with his leadership was key to enabling him to achieve his goals. By working together with them he was able to schedule his additional tasks alongside his primary duties and meet all of his deadlines. According to Gopinath, earning BTZ would not have been possible without the mentorship from the members of his unit.
“My leadership has always given me room to grow and once they saw I was learning the ropes they stepped back, taking a wait-and-see approach,” Gopinath said. “They put their faith in me and I wanted to live up to their expectations and reward that trust. I’m really glad that I was able to.”