KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., has a new top enlisted leader in Command Chief Master Sgt. Barbara J. Gilmore.
Gilmore joins the 403rd after serving as the command chief for the 932nd Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., since June 2018.
“The main responsibilities of command chief are being an advisor to the wing commander and taking care of the enlisted Airmen of the wing, to put it briefly,” she said. “The advisement goes both ways, though. It’s important I relay and implement the commander’s priorities and expectations within the enlisted force.”
Just a few (29) years before being hired here, Gilmore started out her career in the Air Force in the combat arms realm at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan.
During her 12-plus years on active duty, Gilmore experienced an overhaul, so-to-speak, of the career field now known as security forces, and it provided significant building blocks on her journey to becoming the Airman and leader she is today.
“With the transition of combat arms and other areas into one, the opportunity was there to branch out and do something different as a security forces member,” she said. “I was at Charleston at the time, and they had (Phoenix) Ravens, and I decided I wanted to do that.”
According to the Air Mobility Command, the mission of the Phoenix Raven program is to ensure security for aircraft transiting airfields where security is unknown or additional security is needed to counter local threats.
In layman’s terms, they are a small, but elite security force highly trained to protect aircraft and crews in austere situations.
It took persistence and not taking no for an answer--more than once, but in 2000, Gilmore was one of the first women to graduate from the intensive, two-week Phoenix Raven School at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
Gilmore said that “not taking no for an answer” attitude she relied upon over 20 years ago is a good way to describe her approach as a leader, today.
Of course, she didn’t get to where she is on her own.
“I think it’s so important for Airmen to have at least one mentor,” said Gilmore. “It doesn’t have to be an immediate supervisor or even anyone in your shop. You just need someone that can give good advice and guidance.”
The mentorship that steered the course for her came at the end of her active duty enlistment in 2004.
“When I got out of active duty my plan was to get out of the military entirely,” said Gilmore. “I was a staff sergeant at the time and my chief asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and he ended up walking me through the process of coming to the reserve and encouraged me, and he’s the reason why I am where I am today.”
Since joining the Air Force Reserve, Gilmore has run the gamut of experience, serving in different statuses and Air Force Specialty Codes.
She spent four years as a security forces Individual Mobilization Augmentee overseas before becoming a traditional reservist at Scott in 2008. It was there that she transitioned to the medical side where she worked her way from a medical service craftsman, to a functional manager, to the chief enlisted advisor for the 932nd Medical Squadron, and ultimately, command chief for the wing.
“When I first took the command chief job at the 932nd, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Gilmore. “Being the top enlisted leader for an organization comes with a lot of expectations, but the experience taught me so much. I learned what works—and what doesn’t. There’s an anonymous quote that says, ‘Show me someone who has never failed and I will show you someone who has never achieved much.’ We all make mistakes. It’s not a one-mistake Air Force.”
The position also taught her empowerment. She said she encourages Airmen to make decisions at the lowest level as it is that empowerment to make decisions that is the foundation for building resilient leaders.
Aside from the notable weather differences between Illinois and South Mississippi, there are a few changes Gilmore will experience as she transitions into the 403rd Wing’s mission.
The 403rd is assigned 16 more aircraft and approximately 600 more personnel than the 932nd, but Gilmore said she’s approaching this new endeavor with the mindfulness that, while the units’ missions may vary in size and scope, every Air Force entity is working toward the same goal: to fly, fight, and win…airpower anywhere, anytime.
She said her job is to take care of the people, and that if they’re taken care of, the mission, no matter what it is, will be accomplished.
As she begins her time as a full-time Active Guard Reservist with the 403rd, Gilmore said her biggest focus will be improving professional enlisted development efforts throughout the wing and vying for involvement in organizations like “Top 3” and “Rising 6” to build morale and relationships.
“Because of the pandemic, it’s been a challenge to promote and accomplish professional development, but we’ve got to figure out a way to get past that while ensuring our Airmen are in a safe environment,” she said. “The Chief of Staff (of the Air Force) says, ‘Accelerate Change or lose … developing resilient leaders’ and that’s what we have to do: develop resilient leaders. Professional development is a huge part of that.”
“Chief Gilmore will be a leader who brings experience and has a great perspective and focus on doing everything she can to support the airmen in our wing,” said Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Wing commander. “She will be a great wingman for me as we lead the Wing of Choice in our diverse missions.”
Gilmore’s first Unit Training Assembly was Aug. 7-8, and she described the wing’s reception as warm.
“Everybody has been so welcoming and asking me what I need instead of the other way around,” she said. “I can tell it’s a one-team, one-fight family environment here.”