Military News

Friday, July 31, 2015

ANG's Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year: Master Sgt. Sally Ford

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 zones."

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 the coast."

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 face.

"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."

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