20 Under 40

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sandra N. Centeno, 316th Training Squadron instructor, poses for a photo. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sandra N. Centeno, 316th Training Squadron instructor, poses for a photo. (Courtesy photo)

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Sandra Centeno joined the Air Force after high school, served in Hawaii and Korea, and realized there's no place like home.

So when an opportunity arose to serve as an intelligence instructor at Goodfellow Air Force Base, the 2005 Lake View High School alumna jumped at it.

Today, she's flourishing personally, professionally and civically. Her 4-year-old son Rocco Flash (yes, after the crimson-clad superhero) has a close relationship with his grandparents and aunt. Her commanding officer calls Centeno "one of our best and brightest instructors." And her long resume of volunteer service would almost lead one to believe the 28-year-old staff sergeant is an army of one.

But as with all military efforts, she noted, the community involvement is a team effort.

"It's inherent with everyone," Centeno said, smiling pleasantly. "The United States is so appreciative of our generation of military members. And we appreciate that. So we give back. We're doers."

That's particularly true of Centeno, whom Goodfellow honored as its Volunteer of the Year. She credits the base for giving its airmen ample opportunities to serve and to the community for embracing its military members.

Centeno has assisted claybird shooting fundraisers for hospital programs, delivered meals to the elderly, directed traffic at boat races, and cooked for Lions Club charities at the rodeo. She has picked up roadside trash, raised funds for scholarships and for cancer research, volunteered at Christmas at Old Fort Concho and judged Air Force Junior ROTC competitions.

Her high school days in the latter helped launch her own military career.

When she enlisted, she had no idea that Goodfellow specialized in intelligence training and was surprised when she was stationed back in San Angelo after boot camp. She volunteered to transfer back to Goodfellow for three reasons. One, she loves teaching and training her colleagues to be intelligence analysts. Two, she wanted to help prepare the next generation of airmen. And three, as a single mother, she wanted to be closer to her family's support system. Her commanding officer raves about Centeno, who was named a Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter at Goodfellow last year.

"Staff Sgt. Centeno is one of our most reliable NCOs and instructors," Capt. Julie Jackson said. "Whenever we need to select an NCO for a hard task that requires detail to attention, she is the first person we consider for the task. Her positive attitude is contagious, and she is very well liked by her peers and leadership."

Centeno said she's still growing as a leader.

"Every day, I stand in front of 16 airmen and teach them," she said. "I want them to be excited about what they're embarking on. In those instances, I'm a leader. In others, I'm still learning."