JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. — Master Sgt. Chontelle R. Southworth, of the 115th Fighter Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, was selected as the Air National Guard 2020 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year.
Southworth, the 115th Logistics Readiness Squadron first sergeant, earned her diamond in 2017, but her military roots run back to childhood. Southworth’s father was a member of the Wisconsin ANG and encouraged her to enlist for the education benefits. Nearly 17 years later, Southworth has found her own “why” for serving, and it is the Airmen she encounters every day.
“I’ve always been motivated to help others, even before becoming a first sergeant,” said Southworth. “Just by knowing where to go and who to talk to puts me in a position where I can get things done for Airmen. I love this job and I love being there for my people.”
As first sergeant, Southworth serves as the commander’s primary link to the enlisted corps and is tasked with ensuring Airmen's readiness on all fronts.
In summer 2019, Southworth deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, as the 405th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant responsible for the wellbeing of 850 troops.
“I worked lodging support, in-processing, and any other commander priorities,” said Southworth. “Basically, I helped Airmen with anything they need, both professionally and personally.”
While deployed, Southworth identified a dining facility schedule conflict that hindered flight line mission effectiveness. Stringent food service times limited maintenance Airmen’s access to meals, especially when tasked with short-notice missions. Southworth and the other first sergeants coordinated with dining facility contractors to have meals delivered to more than 185 Airmen.
“This allowed us to keep Airmen on the flight line, where they need to be and make sure they got fed,” said Southworth.
One of the most demanding aspects of her role as a deployed first sergeant was processing Red Cross emergency leave notices.
“When these notices came in, us first sergeants would work together and make sure to get the Airmen home fast,” said Southworth. “When a tragedy happens back at home, Airmen are emotional and they’re not thinking about the deployment anymore. They need to be with their family.”
Southworth expedited 14 notices during her 180 days downrange, with many troops arriving home to their loved ones within 48 hours.
“It can be stressful, but getting Airmen out as fast as possible and back with their families was really meaningful,” said Southworth.
Although first sergeant duties often revolve around Airmen, supporting military families is another vital component of protecting the force. While deployed, a fellow 115th FW wingman approached Southworth with concerns that his family was displaced in Wisconsin due to house flooding. She immediately utilized her network to assist the Airman’s distressed family.
“I called home and rallied the troops at the 115th Fighter Wing,” said Southworth. “A group went to the Airman’s home, took everything out of the basement, ripped out the carpet and had everything replaced. The renovation only took about two weeks until his wife and kids were back in the home.”
Southworth is a traditional Guardsman; however, she is dedicated to helping Airmen anytime, on or off duty. In 2019, Southworth supported three 115th Airmen by coordinating financial assistance requests, resulting in $750 being allocated to military families in need. She also cultivated a positive wing culture by leading an open forum for 87 Airmen to brainstorm equal opportunity improvements.
“Sgt. Southworth is always willing to come in at the drop of a hat whenever Airmen need her,” said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Carroll, one of Southworth’s close 115th FW colleagues since 2003. "She won’t back down from a challenge. She really cares about these Airmen and I take a lot of pride in knowing her.”
For her unwavering commitment in going above and beyond for others, Southworth is honored as the ANG 2020 Outstanding First Sergeant of the Year.
“I didn’t receive this award by myself,” said Southworth. “I was a part of some great teams that set me up for success. I also have some fantastic mentors that are always willing to listen and help guide me and give me perspective.”
Looking to the future, Southworth’s next goals include expanding her farming business and continuing to explore opportunities that the Air National Guard has to offer.