By Senior Airman Hailey Staker, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 23, 2015
ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
It takes a certain kind of person to be the command chief of an installation. Throw in working with Ellsworth's six colonels, distinguished visitor tours, temporary duty travel, and leading its 2,500 enlisted members, the position can be demanding and filled with long hours, but also rewarding in the long run.
Chief Master Sgt. Sonia Lee is one of those types of people.
Lee, her husband Kendall and their daughter Kiana arrived Aug. 1, 2015, with Lee assuming the position of command chief Aug. 19. Throughout her career, she has held various positions in personnel management at unit and major command levels, recently serving as the Directorate of Manpower, Personnel and Services' chief enlisted manager and personnel functional manager for the personnel division, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
It's been a wonderful four months for the chief and her family, and she is determined to get out and meet more of Team Ellsworth's Airmen and learn and understand what they do to enhance the mission. She recently spoke at her first commander's call, and we wanted to delve a little deeper into who the new 28th Bomb Wing command chief really is.
Airman Staker: Tell me a little about yourself - where are you from, how did you grow up, how long have you been in the Air Force?
Chief Lee: Born and raised in Union, South Carolina, I have four brothers - I'm the middle child. I graduated from Union High School as an honor student and was a student government officer, cheerleader, dancer and played softball. Two months after high school graduation, I joined the Air Force and have been serving my country for 23 years.
AS: Why did you join the Air Force?
CL: I joined because I wanted to travel and pursue my educational goals. My best friend's sister, whom I looked up to, was in the AF traveling the world and proudly serving our country so I knew the AF was for me. However, as time passed, my reasons changed. I've learned the true meaning of serving my country, but being able to travel and get an education while doing so has been icing on the cake.
AS: Did you intend on making the Air Force a career? Why? At what point in your enlistment did you decide you wanted to stay in and continue serving your country?
CL: I always intended to make the Air Force a career as my initial career choice was to become a neurosurgeon. The Air Force seemed to be the best way to do this. I've had a couple moments when I thought about separating, but it was never a serious thought.
By serious, I mean actually PLANNING to leave; instead, I had emotional moments when I thought I'd be better off back home. When I realized I wasn't ready - did not have the degree I really wanted, was not financially able to support myself, no real plan - I knew I wasn't ready. I love what I do and when I look back, I'm glad I didn't let my emotions get the best of me.
AS: As a personnelist, you said your favorite part about your job is helping people. How does being a command chief allow you to further that passion?
CL: As a personnelist, I am able to help others primarily though channels such as records, career and family support, or helping shape policy from a staff level. Being a command chief takes this to another level.
I have a much bigger impact in the way I can help others. My help is not limited to the personnel network. Housing, medical, financial, professional development, education, and security are just a few of the ways I can assist. Also, I'm not restricted to active-duty military members as I am also responsible for assisting family members and civilian employees. This position gives one a better appreciation of what taking care of Airmen truly means.
AS: You've been our command chief for four months now, how has this time been?
CL: This time has been amazing! I've been surrounded by great professionals and have learned so much during this period. I've learned a lot about maintenance and operations personnel in this short time. They are the two areas I've had the least amount of interaction in my career.
AS: What were your first thoughts when you found out you were coming to Ellsworth AFB as our command chief?
CL: Honestly, my first thought was it doesn't matter where I'm going as a command chief; it's about the job, not the location. Naturally, the thought of cold weather soon came to mind, but that's not as important as what the community is like and what services does the base offer. I know individuals who were stationed at Ellsworth before and they all liked it and assured me the community was the base's biggest supporters. They were right!
AS: So as a command chief, what are your main priorities?
CL: My priorities are the same as Col. [Gentry] Boswell's, 28th BW commander: win the fight by ensuring we are always ready by having the resources and training to do so, strengthen the team through resiliency, creating healthy environments and quality of life for all Team Ellsworth personnel, including families and civilians, and prepare for the future through innovation and professional development.
AS: What does it feel like to be one of the few female command chiefs currently in the Air Force?
CL: I'm honored to be in one of these trusted leadership positions. Gen. [Mark] Welsh, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, stated, "The greatest strength of our Airmen is their diversity... each brings a different set of skills and a unique perspective to the team. We don't just celebrate diversity, we embrace it!"
I'm glad we have leaders who recognize the need for more diversity, not just race or gender, but all facets. Females certainly bring a different perspective to the team, and I'm happy to join the few in these positions. However, I don't get wrapped up in the thought of being one of the few. I focus on being a command chief who brings a different outlook that contributes to the success of the team.
AS: If you could give Airmen one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
CL: Concentrate on being the best you! Focusing on the things within your control, such as job performance, training and education, leads to becoming a great Airman. Don't let distractors such as negativity from others, invented competition and bad information dictate who you are. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask questions and look to your leaders for advice.
AS: Do you have anything else to add?
CL: My family and I are very excited to be here! Thank you for welcoming us with open arms and don't hesitate to stop and talk to us when you see us out and about.