Chalk Talk: Sewing on staff sergeant

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
(This interview is Part 5 of an open-ended series featuring question-and-answer sessions with members of Team Keesler.)

Becoming an NCO is an important milestone in every enlisted member's career. Without an excellent core of first-line supervisors, the mission would suffer in ways that could make any wing commander cringe.

Luckily, new NCOs, like Staff Sgt. Jasmine "B" Bienaime, 81st Surgical Operations Squadron women's health medical technician, are ready to take the torch and help lead the next generation of Airmen to success.

If you're ever near the women's health department at the Keesler Medical Center you're bound to hear Bienaime's laugh -- even the busiest of work days won't stop her from enjoying everything the Air Force and her coworkers have to offer, she said.

So when did you sew on staff, and what was your initial reaction?

Bienaime: I sewed on in April of this year, after testing for my second time. I wasn't surprised when I got a line number, because I know I got it. I'm a big believer of speaking life into your future - the first time I tested I wasn't ready for staff. There's a difference in wanting to promote for the money and promoting because you're ready and able to be a supervisor.

So I wasn't surprised when I got a line number, but I was happy because I felt ready for it this time.

Tell me about what you did to prepare for your new role as a supervisor.

Bienaime: I got a line number in September, so I had about seven months to get ready. I went to Airman Leadership School and found out I'd be gaining two troops after I graduated. ALS did a lot to prepare me for it, and supervising two troops right out of ALS as a senior airman allowed me to immediately apply everything I had just learned.

Okay, so what was it like to become a supervisor once you returned from ALS?

Bienaime: I thought it'd be simple; I just had to remember what my current and past supervisors have taught me - it's all about setting a standard.

I also had to get over the fact that I wasn't "B" anymore; I'm now "Sgt. B," and I have to ensure standards are maintained and the mission gets accomplished. That all fits into how your scope widens when you become a supervisor; you're no longer just responsible for you. You have to be involved in your troop's lives because they're absolutely essential to the unit and mission.

How did you come up with the standards you set?

Bienaime: Essentially by taking what was expected of me when I came in. I've been in for almost five years, and I struggled at first. [I] didn't think this was right for me. Two years in, it stopped mattering to me even though I still had four years left on my enlistment. But then, my old flight chief made me care -- not by forcing me to accept the Air Force lifestyle, but by easing me into it.

He started putting me in situations where I was visible to other Airmen, NCOs and leadership and coming to me afterwards and asking me for feedback on how I felt about it.

It made me care, made me want to be better. I started learning to do my hair better and noticing what I needed to improve on. I wouldn't want someone to come up with a judgment about my troops based on how they look, especially if they're great troops. So being squared away is incredibly important.

What was the biggest change for you, transitioning from Airman to NCO?

Bienaime: Definitely how Airmen now look for you. They ask questions and assume you have an answer or can solve a problem. Being the highest-ranking person in the room means you have to be able to take care of business and help find a solution to an issue, even if you don't know the answer yourself.

Other people don't know when you put on staff - it could've been last week or three years ago. Regardless, the expectations are higher, and you have to be more resourceful.

So in going along with that, what has been the biggest challenge?

Bienaime: Enlisted Performance Reports are hard to write. I want to be able to help my Airmen put their best foot forward for evaluations, and I want to be able to do their actions justice when I put them up for an award.

Another big one is seeing Airmen who have the same mentality I had a few years ago. If they aren't interested in volunteering or taking advantage of the opportunities the Air Force presents them, I want to help them the way my flight chief helped me. For me it's difficult to sit idly by. I don't want to see any Airman fail, but finding the right balance between laying off and putting pressure on them is something I'm still working on.

Okay, so how do you set someone up for success?

Bienaime: Find what makes your Airman tick. Is it education? Set them up with other Airmen and NCOs who know a lot about how the military education system works. Do they want to win awards? Encourage them to join a private organization, go to bullet-writing classes and look for leadership opportunities. Do they want to commission someday? Find some officers who were enlisted or know what the processes are, and help them learn how to make the programs work for them. It's all about communication and networking and finding out what drives your Airman to want to be successful.

What's been a rewarding experience for you so far?

Bienaime: When your troop says you're the best supervisor ever! That feels good. I also like to let people know they can talk to me, and that they shouldn't be afraid to let me know what's going on. Having one of my troops or another Airman open up to me and earning their trust is an amazing feeling.

Was it difficult for you to transition from troop to supervisor?

Bienaime: I think it was a pretty smooth transition on the outside, but internally I was finding out a lot I didn't know about myself. I'm not as patient as I thought I was, and my need for organization has led me to be sterner about it than I thought I could be.

Traditionally I've been more of a follower than a leader, but the external events of me becoming a supervisor and the responsibilities, projects and expectations have helped me flesh out what I want and what kind of leader I want to be. Now I'm not just doing tasks, I'm delegating them to other people, and I'm now in a position where I can set those people up for success and help them earn recognition for the great work they do.

Do you ever see yourself becoming a mentor for someone?

Bienaime: I'd love to be someone's mentor one day, because I feel that out of all the awards or promotions you can earn, being a mentor is one of the highest honors. You not only have your troops, but possibly someone else from a different work center or career field that values what you say and trust you to help them. I'd absolutely love that. Sometimes people see more in you than you do in yourself.

So where do you see yourself in five years?

Bienaime: Testing for technical sergeant or already have it sewn on. I want to continue to grow and be the best NCO I can be -- I definitely want to make this a career!