OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
In a male dominated service branch like the Air Force, a female chief master sergeant is rare. Luckily, Osan’s very own Chief Master Sgt. Syreeta Seamon-Sylvester pinned on the highest enlisted rank which is attained by roughly 1 percent of the enlisted force. Seamon-Sylvester did not let the struggles of being a female Airman stop her from reaching this goal.
“My original plan was to do 4 years and just get out,” said Chief Master Sgt. Seamon-Sylvester, 51st Logistics Readiness Squadron Deployment and Distribution Flight Superintendent. “I just had a bad taste in my mouth from the leaders that I worked alongside with. There were still good supervisors in the mix, but just as a new Airman at a new base, I just couldn’t’t see it.”
Her story starts like many in the Air Force. A rough patch early on can make or break an Airman’s career. Seamon-Sylvester attributes her will to improve and move on to the helping hands of mentors that were by her side the whole way.
“Looking back, I'm glad that I did stay in,” said Seamon-Sylvester. “I'm glad that retired Senior Master Sgt. Dan Wolfert and retired Master Sgt. Dwight Crum took me under their wings. They were a blessing in my life and encouraged me to stay in and look at other opportunities. They talked to me about being an Air Force recruiter, which I eventually became”.
Mentorship in the Air Force has a long-standing tradition, where the older generation guides the next generation of Airmen through various hurdles and provides life advice for the situations that they may encounter. These mentors helped the young chief in ways that might seem ordinary to most Airmen.
“”My immediate supervisor at the time, he was just about numbers, he was just about production. If you were sick, it didn't matter, you had to produce.” Seamon-Sylvester said. “With Sergeant Wolfert and Sergeant Crum they were about the people. They would see how you are doing, check in on you if were struggling. They would just be there for you, you know? The little things we miss when communicating.”
Her positive experiences with mentorship helped guide her career spanning bases across the globe including being a recruiter and a Military Training Instructor. Still, Seamon-Sylvester was not free from adversity and challenges being a female Airman.
“I was the only female Senior NCO and I was attending staff meetings in a room full of males,” said Seamon-Sylvester. “The commander would ask a question and before I could even answer, another master sergeant would always reply off the cuff and the commander would go along with it. Even if I said by Air Force Instruction we're supposed to or not supposed to do this.”
It was again her trusted counsel who has advised her throughout her career who provided guidance on how to handle these situations.
“They said that sometimes you just have to let things fail,” said Seamon-Sylvester. “Once this happened, the commander then appreciated the value I brought to the team and he started treating me as an equal partner.”
After overcoming many obstacles and finally being treated as an equal, Seamon-Sylvester looks to guide the newest leaders of the Air Force in the same fashion she was taught by her mentors. Her two key points are inclusion and teamwork.
“We focus so much on being individuals and getting that individual recognition,” said Seamon-Sylvester. “I think we should spend more time on us coming up together. If you and I work together, we can move mountains.”