GUNTER ANNEX, Ala., -- For those who know Chief Master Sgt. Bernadette Hollinger best, the adjectives that would best describe her would be passionate and selfless.
These traits have guided Hollinger throughout her career as a program manager in the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate, and in her newly appointed position as the first female command chief of the 187th Fighter Wing at the Air National Guard in Montgomery, Ala,.,
“It means a lot to me to be the command chief for the 187th, but I don’t want people to look at me as just a female or an African American female in this role,” Hollinger said. “We currently have a commander (Col. William Sparrow) and vice commander (Col. Edward Casey) that are dedicated to continuing the proud traditions of the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails and having an elite fighter wing that has experienced, talented, and skilled personnel from different backgrounds that can successfully deploy all over the world. I feel honored and proud that they were willing to take a chance on me.”
For Hollinger the road to becoming the command chief of the 187th FW, was an unexpected one. Nevertheless the journey provided her with the lesson that there is constant observation of our actions even when we least expect it.
“When I was approached about applying for the command chief position, it was something I hadn’t thought about,” she said. “It goes to show that someone is always watching you, what you do, and how you interact with people. It made me realize that if they weren’t watching, I would not have been afforded the opportunity that I have now.”
Outside of her work life, Hollinger devotes much of her time to volunteering and giving back to her community. She volunteers at the Salvation Army and has served as a member of the Junior League of Montgomery for more than 12 years. In addition she has chaired various community service projects and programs.
The drive for helping others came from her mother, who also made it a priority to help others.
“When I see a need, it just inspires me in a different kind of way, and I feel like I needed to do something,” Hollinger said.
Hollinger points out two specific individuals that pushed her to have the success she has attained so far in her career.
“I would say that I tend to focus on strong women,” said Hollinger. Sometimes they don’t have to be people that I actually know. I can sit and watch someone in the community, like Charisse Stokes, who brought me into the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. I watched her and how she moved through and navigated her career and interacted with others. That helped shaped me and my career.
“I’ve also had lots of mentors, particularly Mr. Herbert H. Hunter, Jr. He has helped me a lot with both my civilian and military careers,” she said. “If I needed advice or what path I needed to take, he was always willing to give me input-good or bad. He’s probably my number one mentor, my number one fan.”
In her new role, Hollinger will be responsible for setting the tone for the enlisted forces, gauging their morale to ensure that they are trained and ready to accomplish the mission.
“As the command chief, I need to ensure that the enlisted force are ready and engaged on the training side, to make sure that they’re mentally, physically, and emotionally ready for the challenges they’ll face,” Hollinger said. One of my biggest things I’m focused on is mentoring young people, to help them get through the big changes that Air National Guard is getting ready to embark on.
For Hollinger, her leadership philosophy is very simple: your vibe attracts your tribe.
“For me, if you have a positive vibe and attitude, then the people you attract will have a positive vibe and attitude also,” she said.
Improving the 187th FW, according to Hollinger involves a very necessary and essential principle.
“At times, there is a tendency to focus more on the mission than on the people,” she said. “Sometimes, after the mission is completed, people are forgotten. There needs to be a reminder sometimes that people are important and they still have needs and issues probably more than ever after the mission is complete.”
Leaving a legacy behind for others like her to follow is something that is not lost on the chief, and it all starts for her with mentoring.
“Mentoring is important to me because I have 28 years in the Guard and I’m on the downside of my career. What I’m doing for the next three years is not for me, but it’s for the young people that are coming up behind me,” she said. “Mentoring is a buzzword for saying that you care for your people. People don’t care how much you know, but they just want to know that you care. We need to prepare the young people that will be following us because it will be their guard unit in the next 5-10 years, and not ours.”
Usually the most difficult part of a transition to a new job is adjusting to the current system in place. However, Hollinger already has a plan to approach challenges the best way she knows how—directly.
“When I’m given a task, I like to approach everything head on because I’m very passionate,” she said. “My focus ensures the task until it is completed. There probably will be a lot of bumps in the road in my new position and I may not handle them correctly, but I’m human. As long as I learn from them I will be okay. I’m not afraid to ask for help, and I believe that I’ve built enough relationships over the years to assist me with any challenge that I will face.”
“I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my life, because I consider this professional development for my civilian job. I’m thankful for my “Secret Angels” across Maxwell-Gunter Annex and the 187th Fighter Wing, family and friends that have helped me get to where I am.”