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October Chief's Concerns

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Chrystal, 169th Force Support Squadron Chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base of the South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for a portrait, Sept. 12, 2013.   (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder/Released)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Chrystal, 169th Force Support Squadron Chief at McEntire Joint National Guard Base of the South Carolina Air National Guard, poses for a portrait, Sept. 12, 2013. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- This past year has been a busy and challenging one for everyone at the 169th Fighter Wing, but we overcame and became the first Air National Guard unit to accomplish a Certified Readiness Evaluation (CRE)! I know you have spent a lot of time, energy and effort preparing and it does not go unnoticed. You may not always understand why we have to work so hard and put so many hours in but, ultimately, every one of you was a key player in determining how the wing performed. Just like the CRE, for anything important you do in life, you must have a plan in order to reach your goals. I have had some great mentors in my career and they have guided me to where I am today. I like to think of it as being a "turtle on a fence post." The turtle did not get up there on his own - someone had to lift him up to his lofty new perch just like my senior noncommissioned officers (SNCOs) assisted me.

I had a goal as a Technical Sergeant to become a First Sergeant for the 189th Airlift Wing when I was in the Arkansas Guard. I interviewed three times for different "Shirt" positions, but was not selected. I finally sought the advice of Senior Master Sgt. Wally Davis, who sat on the boards, and asked him what I was doing wrong. He said, "you come into the interview and kick back in the chair and act like you have all the answers to every question we ask." I said, "I do have all the answers!" He quickly explained that interviewing was an art and explained that my cocky attitude was not the key to me being successful. He said I needed to have a plan to learn how to interview. Sergeant Davis worked with me to improve my delivery skills and taught me how to be successful. His mentorship worked and the next time I interviewed, I was selected to become a Shirt.

A few years later, I headed off to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where I worked as an Air National Guard Liaison. Chief Master Sgt. Joan Peters quickly noticed that I did not have a Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) or college degree. She told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go to the education office and establish a degree plan to complete my degrees. Personally, I saw no point to this and thought it was a waste of my time since my civilian employer did not require one. However, Chief Peters knew that a CCAF showed proficiency in my career field and was a key element to having a successful career.

Next, I had the opportunity to apply for and was offered a Senior Master Sergeant position at Keesler AFB, Miss. What could be better - being close to the beach and having every other Friday off! But to my dismay, Chief Peters approached me once again and said that it would be better for my career if I went to the First Sergeant Academy (FSA) as an instructor. I told her that I didn't aspire to be a First Sergeant Instructor. However, she explained that she had a plan for me and in order for me to make rank, it would be the best thing for my career. Although it wasn't in my plans at the time, I knew what I needed to do and soon found myself selected to be an instructor at the academy. It wasn't long after that I was promoted to Senior Master Sergeant because my career path took the hard instead of the easy road.
I quickly began adapting to my new role as an instructor and was comfortable overcoming the daily challenges associated with the new job and the increased responsibility of that additional stripe. However, the FSA Commandant, Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Rainey, also quickly noticed that I had completed the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy by correspondence and had not attended in-residence. He said that in order for me to make Chief, it was in my best interest to attend. I told the Chief, that it really wasn't my plan to make E-9 and that since I'd already taken the course, I didn't feel that I needed to attend in-residence. Well, the Chief knew better as he found an open slot over the summer and sent me across the street for my seven-week summer session ruining my plans to hang out by the pool. Chief Rainey understood that in-residence Professional Military Education was very important to building long-term relationships and making connections, which was something I could not achieve through a correspondence class.

After Chief Rainey left the FSA, Chief Master Sgt. "Lucky" Bush took over as commandant and made me the director of operations. Once again, this was something I did not want to do as it added a tremendous amount of work to my shoulders by supervising nine SNCOs, providing distinguished visitor briefs, handling lodging, coordinating guest speaker visits, developing course materials, all while still teaching my own class! Chief Bush saw the potential in me and had a plan to help me develop my career, which put me on the path to making E-9.

I did not know it at the time, nor did I appreciate the extra responsibility and hard work that came with the increased duties until I successfully pinned on these Chief stripes in this past May. It was at that time I learned the plans that had been put in place by my leadership were for my own good. All of my SNCOs guided my career to where I am now. Even though I could not see the vision of what I needed to do to reach my goals, they understood the right steps I needed to take to lead me down the path of success.

So now when your Chief or other SNCO assigns you additional duties or responsibilities, it is with you in mind! It is intended to broaden your scope of understanding on how the Air Force works as a team and to prepare you for future leadership responsibilities. Be a "real" model to other Airmen not just a "role" model. Reach out, educate and have a sustained level of engagement with your Airman and they too can be a "Turtle on a Fence Post"!