by Staff Sgt. John E. Hillier
Air National Guard Readiness Center Public Affairs
7/31/2015 - JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Whether
it's a wing of almost 1,000 Airmen, or a family of five, taking care of
people is what drives Master Sgt. Sally J. Ford, the Air National
Guard's 2015 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year.
Ford is assigned to the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue
Wing, where she is a first sergeant for the 129th Mission Support Group.
She also spent seven months last year deployed to Saudi Arabia as the
first sergeant for a mixed-component unit in US Central Command.
Ford spent 11 years as active duty Air Force, serving first in security
forces and then as a paralegal, but when her daughter's special needs
required that the Ford family settle into a permanent residence, they
moved to California, and Ford transitioned to the Guard. "For my family I
left active duty, but I still had the sincere desire to serve and the
Guard allowed me to do that," she said.
Ford has been with the 129th for five years, taking care of her Airmen so that they can accomplish their mission.
"One memory that sticks out in my mind was the wing's response to
Hurricane Sandy," said Ford. "I was fortunate to be tasked as the first
sergeant for that response. To be able to see everything come together:
to see the maintainers gaming it, loading aircraft, unloading aircraft,
unfolding them and getting them running, to see the HH-60 guys chip in
to get it done. Everyone did what needed to be done to make it happen
and the speed with which it took place it was impressive. It's always
good to do what you've been trained to do."
Ford was selected for this honor among all other Air National Guard
members serving in the first sergeant special duty career field. First
sergeants serve as a dedicated point of contact for health, morale,
readiness and quality of life issues within their units.
"First sergeants are there because they genuinely care about people,"
she said. "It's about helping people when and where you can. And getting
them in a position where they are better able to contribute to the
mission," said Ford. "I'm grateful to get the chance to serve others I
love to see people do what it is they've been trained to do, that's when
they shine. It's inspiring."
She credits much of her success to her father, and the many other mentors she's had throughout her career.
"My dad showed me from the very beginning that any job worth doing, is
worth doing right, and he showed me what hard work means," said Ford.
"I'm grateful to both of my parents for that upbringing. I'm fortunate
to have had a lot of people along the way who have guided me when I
needed to be guided. They fed me extra responsibilities that brought me
out of my comfort zone and that's where we grow - outside of our comfort
Ford's husband is an aerial gunner also assigned to the 129th Rescue
Wing. When the Fords put on their uniforms for drill weekend, her family
also steps up and volunteers their support.
"My mom travels up to us just about every drill weekend," said Ford.
"She's enabled me to serve through her generous support. I feel that she
serves too; she's a major blessing in my life."
With both her and her husband in uniform, Ford has first-hand experience
in dealing with the issues many of her Airmen face. She says drill
weekends are a minor hurdle when compared to deployments.
"We've seen things from both sides and the consensus in our house is
that it's much harder to be left behind," she said. "When you're gone,
you have one direction to focus - it's your mission. Whatever your
mission is, wherever you are, you're trying to execute it. But when
you're back home, you're down your partner. Life is still life. Parts
are still moving, and now you only have one set of hands to deal with
something that typically requires four or more."
The key lesson in that for Ford is to cherish the times when everyone is together.
"We focus on family, because our attentions are often drawn to other
places," said Ford. "We try and prioritize our life that way. We have
family suppers together and movie night. We like the outdoors. We go
hiking, camping, anything outdoors. My husband and I both have
motorcycles, so we'll get out and ride when we can. It is beautiful out
there in the mountains and the redwood trees or down Highway 1, along
Coming from an active duty background, Ford understands that different
components bring different challenges for Airmen who serve. She makes a
point to educate Airmen about the different issues their counterparts
"I'd love for active duty to walk in the shoes of Guardsmen, and
experience the challenges of balancing a military career with a civilian
career," said Ford. "That was one of the things most surprising to me
when I crossed over. For instance I work at a minimum 12 days in a row
every month without a day off, and I'm not an exception - everybody does
that in the Guard. And our people do it without complaint. They don't
have to serve, they choose to serve. Our livelihoods come from other
places but we are devoted to service."