My Journey and the Lessons Along the Way

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Lashanda Cleveland
  • 423rd Mobility Training Squadron
Editor's note: In recognition of Women's History Month we asked one of our senior leaders, Chief Master Sgt. Lashanda Cleveland, 423rd Mobility Training Squadron superintendent, to share how she found success during her 22 year journey in the Air Force. The 423 MTS uses both in-residence and on-line instruction to deliver 56 courses to over 33,600 Total Force students annually. The unit also develops cross-functional Air Force Tactics, Techniques and Procedures volumes such as the updated Airman's Manual.

Growing up with both parents being senior NCO's in the Air Force family, the military lifestyle was very familiar to me. What I didn't realize, was how much the Air Force would become a career that allowed lifelong learning and growth opportunities. Throughout my career, I followed six keys to success that allowed me to get where I am today.

I live by the Air Force Core Values "Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in all We Do"

I enlisted in October 1994 and it didn't take long for me to experience challenges and opportunities I never could have imagined. Early on, I pushed myself to grow as a leader and to pursue education. Before I knew it, 10 years had passed and the Air Force core values had become my own, the Airmen I served with became my family and accomplishing the mission became my drive.

Beyond the basics: Step outside your comfort zone

As a new Airman, I did what was expected of me; I learned my job, completed professional military education, earned my Community College of the Air Force degree and volunteered in the community. Before long, I started accepting responsibilities that took me out of my comfort zone as well as taking on challenges that were above my level of experience, such as serving as the sole Special Tactic Squadron Aviation Resource Manager as a senior airman. At the time, there was no Aviation Resource Manager position in my unit, but after I implemented several needed processes, a permanent 1C0X2 position was created. It was during the uncomfortable experiences that I grew the most. Every time I completed a challenge that was initially uncomfortable, it opened the door to another opportunity.

Take initiative and ask for help

In addition to stepping out my comfort zone, I wasn't afraid to take the initiative. I didn't wait for someone else to accomplish a task or to tell me how to do it. If I didn't know how to accomplish it, I used the Air Force Instructions, Air Force manuals and continuity books to figure it out. I also sought out those who had the experience and could guide me. I was never satisfied with being average and always challenged myself to reach the next level of ability, proficiency and expertise. I took the initiative to fix broken policies and wasn't afraid to speak up if I believed something was wrong.

Operate in integrity and take care of Airmen

I never forgot the advice my first mentor gave me as a new staff sergeant. He said, "Stay true to yourself and remember to take care of your Airmen." That became my personal ethos. At times, I had to go against the majority and the norm. At times, I made hard decisions not to mark an Airmen a firewall 5 because of the norm, knowing he/she did not perform at that level. At times, I had to say to supervisors, "Sir/Ma'am, that's not correct." At the end of the day, even if the outcome put me on the unpopular list, I asked myself, "Did I operate with integrity? Did I take care of the Airmen?"

Value differences in others and yourself

As an African American woman, there were times when no one else at the table looked like me. There were times I felt my inputs were not valued. However, I didn't allow my perception of not being heard or my differences stop me from speaking up. Along with job knowledge and leadership skills, I have unique experiences and perspectives that add value to the conversation and solutions to the challenges our Air Force and our Airmen face. I hope all Airmen know this about themselves and value the unique perspective they and their fellow Airmen bring to the fight each and every day.

Have a mentor, be a mentor

I could not have made chief master sergeant without great mentors along the way. Every challenge I faced and opportunity I received, a mentor encouraged me to it or coached me through it. Likewise, my greatest fulfillment in my daily work is mentoring and developing Airmen, being a part of something bigger than myself, and advising senior leaders on matters that affect enlisted Airmen.

I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me and paved the way for me.  I hope my journey and lessons learned will pave the way for Airmen in the future.