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Shaw Weasel excels downrange

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cheryl Lockhart, 20th Medical Group (MDG) chief nurse, receives a Bronze Star Medal certificate from Col. Brian Wyrick, 20th MDG commander, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Nov. 8, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cheryl Lockhart, 20th Medical Group (MDG) chief nurse, receives a Bronze Star Medal certificate from Col. Brian Wyrick, 20th MDG commander, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Nov. 8, 2017. Lockhart received the medal for her accomplishments during her role as the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing’s plans and programs deputy while deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Wyrick, 20th Medical Group (MDG) commander, pins a Bronze Star Medal onto Lt. Col. Cheryl Lockhart, 20th MDG chief nurse, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Nov. 8, 2017.

U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Wyrick, 20th Medical Group (MDG) commander, pins a Bronze Star Medal onto Lt. Col. Cheryl Lockhart, 20th MDG chief nurse, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Nov. 8, 2017. Lockhart had just returned from a six-month deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- At times the Air Force calls upon its service members to complete extraordinary tasks, pushing them out of their comfort zones and beyond their perceived limitations.

When Lt. Col. Cheryl Lockhart, 20th Medical Group chief nurse, was tasked to deploy as a wing plans and programs deputy, she was in disbelief.

“I’m medical, I’m a chief nurse, a critical care nurse, and I get tasked to deploy as a wing plans officer, which has nothing to do with medical,” said Lockhart. “It has to do with planes and coordinating combat missions and things like that. They told me I was going to get deployed in plans and I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I have no qualifications.’ They said ‘Well, don’t worry. It probably won’t happen. You’re right, you don’t have any qualifications.’ Next thing you know they waived all that.”

Despite her inexperience, Lockhart wanted to strive for excellence and researched ways to increase her knowledge in the career position she was designated for.
“The first thing I did, knowing that I was woefully unexperienced, was to find if there was an Air Force course or something to set myself up,” said Lockhart. “I googled it and I found the Contingency War Planners Course at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. I talked to my leadership here and they agreed. I went to that for two weeks so at least I would have the vocabulary and have some understanding of what I would be doing.”

In April 2017, Lockhart left for Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to support counterterrorism and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel while assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Although she was a long way from Shaw AFB, South Carolina, home of the 20th MDG, she did not forget her nursing skills nor her humility.

“The learning curve was pretty profound,” said Lockhart. “I really don’t have a line officer background. The first thing I needed to acknowledge was that I was not a subject matter expert down there at all; however, I had a lot of subject matter experts and if I could figure out how to tap in to what they knew and utilize them, we could get this done.”

“I got to thinking about it and I thought, ‘You know, the method that I’m using to figure out how to get along in this is very similar to the method I used for nursing problems,’” said Lockhart. “To be honest, I don’t know how else I would’ve done it because it’s so ingrained in my head.”

Lockhart said there are nursing templates that teach individuals how to think about problems. First, nurses identify the problem and then determine if it is a priority. After they develop a team of subject matter experts, they brainstorm various courses of action, decide on a course, reevaluate the idea and then disseminate the plan.

By applying the skillsets she had, Lockhart accomplished many things while acting as wing plans and programs deputy, providing support for three airfields and over 200 aircraft. She also increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, air field security measures and battlefield capabilities.

Lockhart acted as the lead planner for the wing’s first contingency of operations plan, ensuring the unit could be operational within 12 hours in case of mission relocation. Additionally, she published a Workplace Defense Plan to arrange ground attack and active-shooter actions for over 30 locations.

“Lt. Col. Lockhart exhibited great character throughout the deployment and she would not have succeeded otherwise,” said Lt. Col. Grant McNelis, who worked as 455th AEW chief of plans and programs with Lockhart. “Imagine you’re a chief nurse and you’ve been non-volunteered into a deployed plans billet which was typically held by a fighter pilot or line officer. I imagine a lot of folks in her situation would have felt completely overwhelmed and showed up with a negative attitude and made every excuse possible for not performing. Not her. She showed up day one prepared and ready to work, knowing that she would fail in some areas due to a lack of experience. She wasn’t deterred by mistakes and was relentless in pursuing mastery of the tasks she was given.”

Her hard work while deployed did not go unnoticed.

After six months, Lockhart returned to Shaw and the familiarity of the medical career field. As she approached the 20th MDG clinic, she was met with a surprise — the entire unit standing in formation with her commander waiting to present her a Bronze Star Medal.