The making of a command chief

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon M. Shuman
  • 911th Airlift Wing

As a leader, it’s the little things that count. Not every leader takes the time to sit down with their Airmen and eat lunch with them, or remembers an Airman’s name who they’ve only met once. So, what makes a good leader?

“I take pride in the fact that I am an out-of-the-box leader,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jamesha Barnes, command chief of the 911th Airlift Wing. “I'm not normal, as far as how I lead people, but what you can tell by spending any bit of time with me is the fact that I care. And that's what I live by.”

Barnes serves as the top enlisted adviser to the wing commander and is not only the wing’s first full-time command chief, but also the first Black woman to serve in the role. She is responsible for the health and morale of enlisted Airmen, is an advocate on their behalf and is responsible for most things that pertain to the development of the enlisted force as a whole.

“I feel like if we take care of the Airmen, they will take care of the mission,” said Barnes. “It sounds super cliché, but it is so true, Airmen who are appreciated, supported and feel valued will do their absolute best for you, and that's what we do.”

Barnes went on to explain what taking care of Airmen meant to her.

“Taking care of Airmen is making sure that they are trained to do their primary jobs; they have a mantra of continuum of learning, so we’re constantly evolving and developing; making sure that training opportunities are available to our Airmen; to make sure that they're not only professionally developed but also personally developed, and understanding the importance of all the pillars, spiritual, mental, physical and emotional,” said Barnes. “All of those things are important to me and I feel like if we take care of those things for each and every one of our Airmen, then they will be able to take care of the mission.”

Barnes believes a good leader needs to be humble, honest, transparent, approachable and accountable. She likes to think of herself as a transformational leader who is visible and available.

 “We need leaders who think outside the box, and you have to be bold enough to do things that are out of the norm, because we cannot lead the Airmen the same way we did in the past,” said Barnes. “We're evolving as a force. Our Airmen are more technology savvy, they're smarter and they have advanced degrees. They are just multifaceted.”

It may be hard to picture, but Barnes had to start somewhere just like every other Airman.

Barnes joined the military just eight days after she graduated high school. And her primary reason for joining the military? Avoiding college like it was the plague. Barnes said she was dead set on not going to college, which is somewhat ironic considering she now has a master’s degree.

“Over time my thoughts have changed,” said Barnes. “I'm excited about sharing my journey because sometimes you don't always know what you're going to do in the beginning and things end up changing drastically for you along the way.”

Both of Barnes’ parents are retired Air Force veterans. Her father worked in education and training while on active duty, her mother worked in personnel as a traditional reservist and individual mobilization augmentee, and Barnes is right in the middle as an active duty reservist.

“I'm a second-generation chief; my mom was also a chief,” said Barnes. “That's a pretty big thing for me and ironically I had no plans to make it to this point in my career. I think it was a lot of pressure coming up behind my mom.”

Barnes spent her Air Force career in personnel and loved her job, she said.

“I could not see myself doing any other job in the Air Force other than taking care of people, which is why command chief was a very easy transition for me,” said Barnes.

Barnes believes that leaders need to better understand their Airmen.     

“If you come into their world, they will be more open to talk to you and let you in,” said Barnes. “When you know somebody, it's easier to work with them because you can come in and you'll be like, okay, somebody's having a bad day, or, why are you such a good mood? How was your weekend? Just those little things will help you have better relationships with people.”

When you understand your Airmen, you can help them see the bigger picture and help them see why what they do is important, she said.

“Once you understand your ‘why,’ you'll be more passionate about pursuing it,” said Barnes. “I think that's super important. Everybody has a role to play, everyone is important, and I think it's good when people really understand how they contribute to the mission.”

Of course, not everything will go perfectly and mistakes are bound to happen. What matters is learning from those mistakes.

 “I like to say the best lessons in life that I've learned are from the mistakes of others, because you don't have to touch fire to know it’s hot,” said Barnes. “If you can constantly dedicate yourself to being a better person and sharing what you know, then that's going to make this a better place. You learn from others, and you teach others and I think that's what makes people successful.”

Barnes took on the role of command chief for the 911th AW on Sept. 1, 2020.

“Two years ago, I said when I get to 20, I'm retiring, here I am at 22 years, and I feel like I'm just getting started,” said Barnes. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That’s my mantra. I never in a million years thought I would have been a command chief. It's a great honor, and it's an absolute pleasure to be in this role.”