Achieving Dream Through Mentoring, Paying It Forward
by U.S. Air Force Peter Borys, 914th ARW
February 8, 2022
Twenty years ago, becoming an Air Force officer was not a reality for 1st Lt. Shamiqua Baker, director of the 914th Air Refueling Wing Equal Opportunity office and Wing Yellow Ribbon representative.
“I’d dreamed of joining the Air Force since the age of 12. I always knew I was meant to help people, and believed being in the Air Force would allow me to do just that,” said Baker.
At 17 she attempted to enlist, but her mother being a concerned parent refused to give parental permission. That was right before 9/11.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, so it just wasn’t my time to join. At 21, I became a single mom, but never gave up on my dream of becoming an Airman,” she explained.
At 27, she attempted to enlist again, but was unable to join the active-duty Air Force because of her single parent status.
“The recruiter recommended the Air Force Reserve as an option and I finally began my Air Force journey,” said Baker. “I enlisted exactly 10 years after my first attempt. Only this time, I had plans to become an officer after a long talk with one of my biggest mentors.”
The plan would require going back to school to get her degree, learning her new job in the Air Force, while being a single mom. According to Baker, she had many mentors, but a few have had a significant influence on her life like Bishop Darius Pridgen, a former boss and an Air Force veteran.
“In 2010, I told him I wanted join the Air Force. I’ve known him since I was nine, but didn’t know he served in the Air Force until expressing my dream to him. I was super nervous about leaving my daughter and he shared his experiences with me about having to leave his daughter as well,” she explained. “He taught me about the enlisted and officer structure and believed I could become an officer. Right before leaving for Basic Military Training in 2012, I almost chickened out, but my mentor didn’t let me give up on myself. Bishop Pridgen taught me that to lead is to serve and that is something that I take seriously as a leader,” she said.
Other mentors included Col. Patrick Campbell who previously served at Niagara as the 914th Operations Group Deputy Commander.
“The journey from enlisted to officer was challenging, but Col. Campbell shared his incredible journey with me which helped motivate me to keep moving forward,” said Baker. “Lt. Col. Greg Sell and Maj Steve Packwood, (they) were one of the best supervisors I ever had, both from the 914th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. They never let me quit. All of these mentors lead by example and taught me so much as they believed in me and still encourage me to this day.”
Baker believes mentoring is extremely valuable to all Airmen at every stage of their career because of the support it provides.
“Life is not easy and as Reserve Airmen we balance a lot. Knowing that there is at least one person in your corner that believes in you and cheering for you even when the wins are small, pushing you when the times get tough, can make the difference between giving up and fulfilling your goals,” she stressed.
1st Lt. Baker uses her own experiences to mentor others to help them achieve their goals.
“In June 2020, I had the honor of re-enlisting five Airmen who previously debated continuing service. I was speechless when they specifically selected me for this special moment in their lives to continue their Air Force careers. I am positive they remained because they worked hard to be where they are today, (and) each have an incredible story (that) they simply aren’t done writing yet,” she explained.
Master Sgt. Christina Chapman from the 914th Force Support Squadron was one of those five Airmen.
“Her mentality to push forward through the hard times, against the grain of doubters, captured my attention,” said Chapman.
“From Airman to lieutenant Baker, I have realized that a true leader doesn't inflict pain, they share pain. My re-enlistment was coming up back in mid-2021. There were some major obstacles that came about while being in the 914th. Those experiences had me second guessing if the military was something to continue to work in. Knowing I always wanted to pursue an officer career, lieutenant Baker told me if you're working, you're growing. Push one day at a time towards that goal but if I got out, I wouldn't be happy with myself knowing I had given up so close to my achievement. She explained it wouldn't be easy, but to feed my dreams. It feels great to have someone support, nourish and believe in you,” said Chapman, grateful for the leadership that was instilled to her by Baker.
“I wish to continue to carry that leadership role, something lieutenant Baker successfully exceeds in, and fulfill a retirement within the military."
Staff Sgt. Amina McCrary, 914th ARW administrative specialist, is another of the five Airmen Baker met back in 2016.
“In April of last year, a career changing issue came up. ‘I was stuck.’ I contacted Lt. Baker. I had spoken with her and asked how I move on from here,” said McCrary. “It felt great to have her along this small but impactful portion of my journey. I asked her if she would swear me in for re-enlistment. She told me that I would be the first one she’s ever done. I am very grateful for her help and support. If it wasn’t for her, I would not be in the military,” explained McCrary.
Mentorship is all about paying it forward.
“Mentors are all around us. To get one all you need to do is ask. To me, being a mentor just means being someone who is willing to listen and provide guidance and motivation. No special training required. Mentors can be anyone from family members to co-workers. Mentors provide support and encouragement. They don’t always have all the answers, but will point you in the right direction. If you don’t have a mentor reach out to someone you find inspiring today. I overcame many obstacles and challenges to get to where I am today, but the guidance I received from mentors helped me tremendously. Life does come with directions, but having support definitely makes it easier to navigate. I’m proud to say my plan worked and this year will be my 11th year of service,” boasted Baker.
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