Senior enlisted leader looks to transform Air Force culture

  • Published
  • By Caroline Clauson
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Chief Master Sgt. Sharma Haynes of the 88th Comptroller Squadron knows she’s in rare company among Airmen.

“It’s tough to be what you can’t see,” she says.

As one of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s highest-ranking enlisted leaders and the mere 4 percent of black active-duty women in the Air Force, Haynes’ exemplary leadership from the top is helping make black and American history brighter all 12 months of the year.

An honors and junior ROTC student from Greenville, South Carolina, Haynes followed her sister, uncles and grandfather down the military path in search of her purpose.

Today, her four-year plan has stretched into 18 years and counting, landing her as senior enlisted leader over the Air Force’s largest comptroller squadron comprised of 135 financial managers, 201 total force Airmen across 20 eclectic staff agencies and a $34 billion portfolio in accounting operations.

“It can be challenging some days, but I absolutely love what I do,” Haynes said. “But I recognize the impact on the culture that it has as well. And I think that’s what propels and drives me to continue service on those days where I may feel a bit defeated. Heavy is the head that wears a crown is what my mentor often imparted to me, and it’s a huge responsibility, but I’m here for it each and every day.”

An outlier among Air Force senior leaders, a group in which African Americans and women are underrepresented, Haynes reflects on how the painful and triumphant markers in her racial heritage that she now carries forward continue to transform culture, in February and beyond.

“Black History Month honors and recognizes the achievements and contributions of those who paved the way for my way of life,” she said. “While it can be tough and emotional to concede to the injustice, the racism and the inequality endured by my ancestors, there’s something very poetic about how, over the course of time, that was channeled into shaping how people of color are viewed, not only in our country but around the world.”

“Reliving history is hard, but it creates awareness of what we have overcome through understanding the struggles of previous generations. We must seize every opportunity to educate and celebrate black history”

Haynes cautioned Airmen not to limit the memorial, celebration and acknowledgment of black American contributions to the shortest month of the year.  

“While Black History Month is observed in February, it really is more enduring,” she added. “Relegating it to one month minimizes the contributions of African Americans. Because black history is American history.”

The difficult shadows of black history not only revolutionized the future projection of black Americans, Haynes also noted. Their courage, ingenuity and perseverance lifted the dignity of the entire nation, whether recognized or not.   

“More often than not, we don’t celebrate and acknowledge that black history is part of our American history,” she said. “One of the most notable examples, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, was at the forefront and impetus for the civil rights movement, changing our whole society moving forward.”

And although facing the inequality, slavery and dehumanization that pervade the country’s past is essential, Haynes wants Airmen to also remember the highlights of black achievements that elevated American life and culture.

“We want to focus not solely on those dark events but also those that have been sources of empowerment,” she said.

The comptroller chief acknowledged black leaders in Air Force history who reflected light on her own journey, naming the late Gen. Colin Powell and retired chief master sergeants in Haynes’ career field — Christine Daniels, Lisa Boothe and Karen Harris — as some of her inspirations.

“Airmen First Class Haynes looked around the Air Force and maybe didn’t see a lot of women of color in leadership positions,” Haynes said. “When I saw them, it was very motivating and powerful for me. I found myself aspiring to be half the leaders that they were.”

In turn, Haynes herself represents how black Americans and women of color in the military are casting light on the missions and people in their care, from high-level budgets down to individual Airmen.

“Simply put, she is amazing and is a true professional who embodies the Air Force core values,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Wolfram, 88 CPTS commander. “I could not have envisioned someone better to be the Wing Staff Agency senior enlisted leader. She is a servant leader with a true passion for and commitment to excellence. I have gained valuable insight watching her develop, mentor and lead our team to new heights.”

Haynes believes frequent, open conversations about diversity and inclusion, such as Air Force sensing sessions, will help empathy and understanding continue to grow.

“Diversity is critical. In our military, it is ultimately vital to our national security and readiness,” she said. “Diversity allows us to leverage our backgrounds and experiences, see challenges and opportunities differently, and strategically maneuver how we get after them. And my belief is that diversity goes hand in hand with inclusion. We can have a diverse table, but if we’re not inclusive in terms of valuing that diversity, the disparity will inhibit our ability to achieve and execute.