New chief to Citizen Airmen: go beyond swipe

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Attaining the rank of chief master sergeant is like reaching the summit of a mountain – it takes hard work, dedication and skill. Chief Master Sergeant Michelle Santiago, 403rd Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, was recognized for reaching her own summit during a promotion ceremony at the Roberts Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Facility Feb. 11.


She joined the Air Force in 1986 and spent 10 years as a personnelist until she separated in 1996. She came back into the military in 1998 with the Air Force Reserve. In 2002, she transitioned her military career path from a focus on personnel to a focus on people when she took a position as a career advisor for the 403rd Operations Group and then as a first sergeant in 2008.


In the civilian world, Santiago works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a project manager. She is responsible for leading major modernization projects to comply with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act by utilizing web-based services and technology. 


“My greatest accomplishment career wise was joining the military; best professional decision I have ever made,” she said. “I can't pinpoint one accomplishment or activity, it’s the culmination of everything to date - successes and failures. I have learned discipline, multiple job skills, exercising the core values, leadership, followership – all of that makes me who I am. Nothing makes me more proud then to wear this uniform.”


Santiago also said her biggest challenge has been managing her time and finding a balance between her different commitments. She said she found that balance by coordinating schedules with her husband, planning ahead as much as possible, working with her boss at her civilian job, and asking for help when she needed it.


“It is hard to juggle a family, full-time civilian job and Citizen Airman job,” she said. “That is just the basic situation of many of our members. There are members who have spouses in the military, who are going to school, who have non-traditional work hours … just all kinds of variables that eat away time.”  


As a first sergeant, part of her job is to help Airmen find ways to overcome those same challenges, as well as any others that could affect their ability to complete the mission. First sergeants are required to be on call 24 hours a day so they can respond to the needs of their Airmen.   


“She takes that obligation freely and she runs with it,” Lt. Col. Quinton Sasnett, 403rd Maintenance Squadron commander, said.

One key to success in the Air Force Reserve, according to Santiago, is something the 403rd Wing adopted several years ago -- “going beyond the swipe.” During unit training assemblies Citizen Airmen are required to swipe in and out at the beginning and end of each day. Going beyond the swipe means taking the time to get involved outside of normal duty functions. This could mean joining the 403rd Wing’s Human Resources Development Council or Top III, volunteering or finding any small way to contribute outside of core job responsibilities. 

“There is a way you get to chief and it’s not by sitting on your hands,” Sasnett said. “It’s doing the things you know are right, not just for you but for the organization.”


In addition to “going beyond the swipe,” Santiago’s advice to Airmen who hope to make chief one day is to exceed every standard they can at the first opportunity it presents itself. She said Airmen need to take opportunities to step outside their comfort zones to get a greater depth of the command level military strategies down to the mission in their Wing. She also recommends that Airmen complete all requirements for promotion before the opportunity comes along.   


“Having said that, making rank or receiving awards has never been a motivating factor for me,” said Santiago. “Doing my job the best I can, having a clear conscious when I go to bed at night, and helping people are my motivators. Those three factors have also helped me have a successful career.”


Though she reached one summit, Santiago doesn’t plan to stop climbing. At her promotion ceremony she said, “I pledge to continue to be me and do as I’ve done, but better. That is all I can do, really.”