A chance to make a change, or two

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Richard Kaulfers
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

"I don't know if work ethic can be taught, but it's what I grew up with seeing how my dad was in the Coast Guard," said Senior Airman Sarah Hargis, who currently runs the commander's support staff at the 911th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

As a recent graduate from Airman Leadership School, a course designed to teach Airmen the roles and responsibility of becoming a noncommissioned officer, Hargis was voted by her peers as a top performer by the end of the course and earned the coveted John Levitow award.

As the only Airman in 911th CSS she is looking forward to becoming a supervisor.

Sharing with joy and a big smile, "We do have an Airman coming to the squadron soon, my first troop!"

Hargis was initially scheduled to attend ALS in-residence at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and was excited for the opportunity but COVID-19 altered those plans. It's not often reservists are able to attend professional military education courses in-residence for various reasons, such as scheduling conflicts with their civilian jobs and unit funding restrictions.

"It was a virtual class which made it hard enough, and I was there with some really smart Airmen from the intelligence, and cyber community, I just wanted to get through it the best way I could," she recalls.

There is something about Hargis's "best way she can" approach, that works, so far it earned her a half dozen military awards throughout 2020. These awards now fill up the window sill behind her standing desk, with titles like Airman of the Quarter, Airman of the Year for the squadron, group, and wing levels and others.

It's all recognition she is happy to receive but never considered, especially because until recently there wasn't even a position available in the office when she sought out a transfer from the unit in Florida where she initially joined. 

The CSS is a position often relegated to the group level in the Air Force Reserve, said 911th LRS Commander Lt. Col. Frank Mercurio, , who feels lucky and a bit spoiled to have a full-time CSS.

Hargis was planning on making career, lifestyle, and family changes when offered an overage position here in Pittsburgh. Often overage positions can put reservists in a career advancement holding pattern. But that didn't deter her from accepting the position on base.

Uncertainty wasn't unfamiliar for Hargis in her pursuit of military career goals, which started off with a swift, “no." from recruiting.

"I learned quickly the Air Force didn't want to enlist single mothers so I initially left it at that", Hargis recalled.

But it was the friends she made where she worked in Florida that kept her interested in wanting to join. After the community lost an Airman during a mission, she knew there had to be a way for her to join. 

"I tried to find other parents that were single parents and ask them, how did you do it, what's the process?" she said.  
Now armed with information and help from her father to assist with her son she was on her way, almost but not right away, again. Another year would pass until she would leave for basic military training. 

She wasn't sure if she was ever going to make it there while waiting for a delayed entry for a spot at BMT. Finally she made it to her first unit at the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field in Florida.

Even though her transition to the 911th initially placed her in an overage position, she was soon left as the only Airman in the CSS office, as two other Airman departed the unit around the time the country started to shut down due to COVID-19.

The situation created significant challenges for everyone on base including commanders tasked with keeping their members wartime ready, said Mercurio.

Hargis was now in charge of the CSS for the squadron and was brought onboard to lead the duties in full time status.  Temporarily putting another full time job on hold to take on the role for LRS.  A move that has helped the command and members stay mission ready.

For example Mercurio recalled, Hargis’s out-of-the-box thinking helped the squadron meet training demands while mitigating burnout and providing squadron members an interactive drill weekend. When asked how, she responded with a simple question.

"Did you ever hear of the game Kahoot?" she asked.

Mercurio, faced with the difficulty of reaching a younger generation that interacts differently with training materials than older Airmen, was struggling to develop an engaging way to teach sexual assault prevention and response talking points. Hargis suggested using the game-based learning platform Kahoot to get Airmen engaged and involved in the training material.

 “So they were able to have fun and compete against each other and I can say hey boss we're good to go,” he said.

Out-of-the-box thinking is what leadership is looking for from their Airmen, said Mercurio. It was also Hargis's communication style and drive that led to mission success, and that was not overlooked by her chain of command.

"I was impressed,” he said. “She has a way of being able to communicate with us, leadership that I don't often see in younger Airmen."

Hargis can be found using those communication skills when conducting briefings, putting together command communications, and responding to plenty of emails, and they’re skills she is looking forward to passing onto her first troop.

"I think she'd make a great loggie, [logistics officer], NCO, or whatever her future might hold," Mercurio went on to say. “I know we can't keep her here forever.” 

Hargis is on her way to finish a bachelor's degree and if you ask her she'll be excited to share the perks and benefits reservists have available to them for higher education. And when she isn't in class, at the office, or with family, you might now see her at the gym. But that wasn’t always the case.

"No, not always, but it's my outlet now," she said between sets during one of her Olympic style workout routines. 

From a rocky start getting into the Air Force following long waits and several lifestyle changes, Hargis displays key Airmanship qualities that make her an example for her fellow Airmen to follow, but she may not necessarily agree that these qualities make her exemplary.

"I don't know,” she might say. “I guess it's what I saw growing up from my dad.”