Official websites use .mil
Secure .mil websites use HTTPS
By Master Sgt. Micky Peña
Air Force Global Strike Command
As Command Chief Master Sergeant for Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Forces Strategic-Air, Chief Master Sgt. Melvina A. Smith is the senior enlisted leader responsible to the commander, Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, on matters concerning the welfare of the command’s Airmen. Together, the leadership team leads more than 33,000 professionals responsible for providing strategic deterrence, global strike capability and combat support to U.S. Strategic Command other geographic combatant commands.
In an effort to create deliberate developmental opportunities, Smith has introduced her Command Chief Shadow Program to build future leaders by giving them first-hand experience while broadened their mission understanding.
“Every single member of this organization contributes to our success every day,” said Smith. “It’s important to me that they understand how what they do, and what their peers and leaders do, all works together and is essential to the big picture of our ability to succeed as a command.”
Airman 1st Class Zili Li, a food services apprentice assigned to the 2nd Force Support Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, was the first to participate in the new program.
Li joined the Air Force to learn new skills and have an opportunity for travel and adventure while seeking a positive change in his life. Originally from China, he recently celebrated receiving his U.S. citizenship and now refers to Mississippi as where he is from.
When asked about his favorite part of being in the Air Force, Li noted it being the people. “When you have a question or problem, there is a support group there,” Li said. “Also, when I see and hear those bombers taking- off and landing, I can't help but feel a certain pride,” he added.
As a food service apprentice, A1C Li leads and schedules eleven military and civilian chefs daily across seven campus dining stations. He plans, prepares, and adjusts 160 weekly menus in support of the nutritional needs of the over 14K military and civilian members of the Barksdale community.
“I love a lot of things about my job. I enjoy working in food service because there's constant change and every day is different. It allows me to be more creative,” Li said about his career.
Li lists his goals in the Air Force are to improve hard skills related to my job, become a better listener and to gain leadership experience.
Read more about his experience through questions and answers here adapted from an interview.
Q: What were your thoughts when first notified of your selection to participate in the AFGSC Command Chief Shadow Program?
A: I was going to see several things I normally wouldn't have the opportunity of seeing in my normal job. I feel very lucky to be the first one on base to participate in the program. I was so happy when I found out about it, and I was excited for this experience and thankful for the opportunity. I was looking forward to it and trying to see the big picture.
Q: What were your initial expectations of the program?
A: That the experience would be incredibly valuable. I would get the opportunity to experience work outside of my immediate team circle, and the exposure could help broaden my understanding of how other team’s work. I would witness how decisions were made at the leadership level. I may start to appreciate the complexity that goes into keeping things running. Knowing how all the pieces work together will improve how I collaborate.
Q: What is something new or surprising that you learned during your experience?
A: I can tell they care about Airmen and their families. Our leadership always put Airmen and their families first. Regardless of the path all Airmen take to get here, once they join the Air Force, they become a part of our global family. Developing and caring for Airmen and their families are one of their top priorities.
Q: What will you take from your experience back into your own work center?
A: Always take pride in your work. It doesn’t matter if I work at the dining facility or on the flight line, it doesn’t matter if we are an Airman or the command chief. You matter and your story matters too.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone else given a mentorship opportunity such as this?
A: Believe it or not, keep smiling, and you will be fine. You have one of the most beautiful tools on earth right under your nose. Keep walking and keep smiling.
Q: How did your perspective on how your job supports the AFGSC mission change?
A: I believe in myself and my leaders more. I want to be a great follower for right now. Everyone wants to be a leader. Few people understand that to be a good leader, you first need to be a great follower. What you learn as a follower can prepare you to be a greater leader.
Q: What was your biggest take away from participating in the AFGSC Command Chief Shadow Program?
A: Command chiefs have one of the most visible jobs in the Air Force. Attending meetings with the chief helped me better understand our leadership. With their guidance, I know I will be a better Airman and leader. I learned that Chief Smith has a very difficult job. We all work together to support one another.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say about your experience?
A: I would like to say thank you to Command Chief Master Sergeant Smith for this opportunity. It was a pleasure to shadow her for a day, it is an unforgettable experience in my life. The experience is incredibly valuable.