Command Chief blazes her own trail

  • Published
  • By SrA Bryan Swink
  • 136th Airlift Wing

Women are breaking down barriers and achieving milestones some thought would never be accomplished while serving in the military. A single, teenage mother who just graduated from high school can join the Air National Guard, work a fulltime job, continue pursuing a college degree and eventually rise to become the first female command chief of the 136th Airlift Wing.

Women’s History Month recognizes and celebrates these trailblazers like Chief Master Sgt. LaTasha Mitchell who made history when she assumed responsibilities of this position during a ceremony here February 23, 2019.

“I always knew I wanted to serve in the military,” said Mitchell. “At the time, I wasn’t able to enlist into the active duty because I was a single mother, so joining the Colorado Air National Guard was my best opportunity. Some people discouraged me from joining or told me I could never make it work, but that is only because they had never seen it done before. I was determined to provide the best life for myself and my son.”

Mitchell served as a traditional Guardsman in Colorado while working as a secretary for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and also attending college at Metropolitan State University in Denver. After a few years, she landed a couple of fulltime positions at different units within the 140th Fighter Wing and eventually landed back in the personnel section of the Force Support Squadron where she worked for eight years.

She drew inspiration and guidance from one of her FSS chiefs who Mitchell said had a lasting impact on her career and life.

“Chief Master Sergeant Anita Johnson, who turned out to be the first female chief in the 140th Fighter Wing, greatly impacted my outlook on my career,” said the Colorado native. “She would always tell me, ‘You can show them better than you can tell them’ and she held me to a high standard of expectations. She always looked out for my career and made sure I was ready for any opportunity that might have presented itself to me.”

While working just about every role within the squadron, Mitchell said she felt like a multi-tool within the unit but began to wonder what other opportunities were out there where she could challenge herself.

“By the end of that time, I was a master sergeant and just felt like my wheels were spinning and I had hit a plateau with my career.” Mitchell said. “Then an opportunity arose where I applied and was selected to work at the statutory tour program with the Air National Guard.”

She served as the ANG separation’s noncommissioned officer in charge for that program and eventually promoted to senior master sergeant. She served as the superintendent over the transition program within the merged Reserve and Guard Statutory Tour Program through the Air Reserve Personnel Center.

“After I spent invaluable time working in that joint environment, learning about personnel processes for active duty, Guard and Reserve, and helping merge processes, an opening arose at the state headquarter level to serve as the senior personnel specialist in the state of Colorado,” she said. “It was an incredible opportunity to be the liaison between the state and the National Guard Bureau for all personnel issues.”

Now married and a mother of three children, she was in Fort Worth for a wedding and said she fell in love with the area. When she saw the FSS superintendent position was available at the 136 AW, she wanted the opportunity to bring her experience and knowledge working at state-level departments to the wing level and take on the challenge of working with and mentoring Airmen within the squadron.

“I thought this was the pinnacle of a personnelist's career,” chief said. “I jumped on the opportunity and was lucky enough to get selected to serve this incredible unit.”

Her predecessor, retired Command Chief Master Sgt. Edward Walden, encouraged her to think about the opportunity and consider applying for the command chief position here.

“I never thought command chief was really on my horizon,” Mitchell said. “After speaking numerous times with Chief Walden and then speaking with other chiefs, I felt confident this would be a great opportunity.”

The role of a wing command chief is to advise the unit commanders on all enlisted matters, including all issues affecting the command's mission and operations, and the readiness, training, utilization, morale, technical and professional development, and quality of life of all enlisted members in the organization.

“I'm definitely a people person,” she said. “I’m all about fostering relationships and working with the commanders, first sergeants and chiefs to cultivate relationships with all Airmen from our wing. It’s incredibly important for our wing’s future to ensure our leadership is continuously mentoring, helping our Airmen with their professional development.”

Understanding the value of the mentorship and guidance she received from Chief Johnson and others throughout her 22-year career, Mitchell said her goal is to pass these leadership fundamentals down to the generation of Airmen she now leads.

“Chief Mitchell is a true leader at heart and my lifelong mentor,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Jeter, 136 FSS sustainment services superintendent. “Over the past four years, and really throughout her career, she has worked tremendously hard to establish the foundation and lay the path for me and other female Airmen to follow. I will forever be grateful and thankful to her for being the epitome and example to myself and other female Airmen that anything is possible. 

Since the announcement of her new position as command chief, Mitchell said she’s had numerous Airmen approach her and tell her how inspiring it is to see her in this type of leadership position.

“It’s really encouraging to see the reaction and response that I’ve received from so many junior Airmen,” said Mitchell. “Many Airmen have come up to me and said, ‘It’s just so good to see that we can get there too.’ That gives me a sense of pride knowing what we are doing is fostering future leadership within the wing and the Air Force.”