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Defenders empower change in each other

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jacob Gutierrez
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

It is 4:30 a.m. and the outside world is silent. However, in the 20th Security Forces Squadron building, the defenders prepare to relieve the previous shift and begin their day.

Defenders file into the squadron armory and are issued their weaponry. They turn each weapon in the clearing barrel and have them inspected. They check in with each other as they put on protective gear. When the time comes, they proceed to fall in to formation and await orders from their flight chief.

Master Sgt. Ashley Tyler, 20th SFS alpha flight chief, is short-statured and speaks with the utmost conviction. She calls her flight to attention and proceeds to give them information about their daily assignments.

“Guard mount” is a flight formation that occurs at the beginning of each shift in the squadron. Not only is this time used to debrief information from the previous shift but it is also a time used for mentorship and career development.

The professional conduct of the flight mixed with unique touches make guard mount an extraordinary situation – they smile and laugh, hard work is recognized, good deeds are documented for awards – this is not the environment people initially expect from the seemingly intimidating defenders who protect and secure our national assets day-in and day-out.

For the 20th SFS alpha flight, the continual journey to become the best leaders possible has been underscored with themes of resiliency, empowerment, intentional leadership and the bonds necessary to undertake the role of a U.S. Air Force defender.

When Tyler arrived at Shaw Air Force Base in June 2019, she was quick to settle into her role and determine what her flight needed from her.

“Once I got to the flight, and I knew everyone, I started seeing areas that needed improvement” said Tyler. “I saw the flight was lacking a bit of structure.”

Tyler was able to draw from her past experience as a military training instructor to enforce structure, and set up steps for her flight to begin moving toward a culture that encourages mentorship and teamwork.

Tyler recognized the need to empower her Airmen to be leaders who feel ownership over their sphere of influence and identify their distinct and unique purpose in the Shaw AFB mission.

“I started putting it back in their hands,” said Tyler. “We needed an identity and we didn’t have one as a flight.”

The identity took form with a new name. They chose a name that represented not only the identity they wished to associate with, but also their values of character and determination. The alpha flight became the Avengers.

“They saw their voice was important,” said Tyler. “Ownership is important.”

With a new name, came a new responsibility to live up to the standards associated with it. Once they found their identity it was time to grow as a team.

Volunteer work was a catalyst for their growth. The flight came together and decided on projects that were meaningful for them, such as working for a local animal shelter or Habitat for Humanity. Working in the community allowed them to forge bonds to undertake more of the technical training needed for their profession.

In alignment with the rest of the Air Force, security forces encourages professional growth. Airmen have to complete quality control checks on their performance in various aspects of their job. This includes but is not limited to, installation entry control, patrol and base defense operations center.

“We started focusing on training and why you need to know your job,” said Tyler. “But it’s one of those things where if it’s (mandatory) they aren’t as receptive to it.”

With that in mind, Tyler needed to come up with a way to make sure her Airmen were internalizing lessons that may not always be the most exciting when taught in a traditional classroom style. One of those topics is the concept of resiliency.

“Resiliency is key, there’s got to be a way that gets them past the compliance piece of coming to work and going home,” said Tyler. “When my folks come to work I want them to be committed and have satisfaction.”

To teach these values, Tyler decided to integrate multiple aspects of the whole Airman concept and include it in their group physical training session. Thus, “Avengerball” was born.

The game combines concepts of flag football and tag. Multiple soft footballs are thrown around the soccer field with the intent of scoring in the opposing goal. With multiple objects to chase after, more of the team can be on the field participating.

“It gives me a sense of teamwork because we couldn’t do our job on our own,” said Senior Airman Christopher Nicely, 20th SFS installation entry controller.

The game is fast-paced. Often times it can be hard to keep track of what is going on because of all the movement. However, one thing is clear. The participants agree that they enjoy it.

“It doesn’t feel like a workout if you’re having fun,” said Staff Sgt. Seth Nolte, 20th SFS installation patrolman.

Tyler said she hopes the team continues to come together and understand the importance of being accountable for not only themselves but also each other.

For many people the journey to a more empowering culture is an evergreen trail, one that continually faces adversity and allows opportunities for growth. The “Avenger Flight” is just one example, but they are a powerful reminder of how small changes can lead to great renewal.