Stand Up For Your Self and Others

My knuckles were turning white from the lack of blood in my fingers. I was clenching my fists as I wrote the message in the computer that a Staff Sergeant’s special duty to an Air Force ROTC position was now canceled. He would not fill this special duty job. I worked at Randolph Air Force Base, which is in San Antonio, Texas. I held the responsibilities of fairly placing enlisted personnel in Air Force special duty positions in the Air Education and Training Command. I had been hand-picked to work in this special duty. My new command was able to get me released six months early from a controlled tour at the Pentagon.

The cancellation message was given to the man who had applied fairly for the prestigious ROTC position. He had filled out an application for this job and had been selected. Earlier, I had been told by my Chief (manager) to cancel the position. He wanted one of his friends in this special duty position who had never applied. I knew what was going on—nepotism, which is the practice among those with power or influence of favoring friends or relatives, especially by giving them jobs. The act of nepotism is unlawful in the government, but it commonly happens because very few people challenge it.

I received a call from the Staff Sergeant’s Senior Enlisted leader a week later, who was a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Only 1% of the enlisted force reach that rank. The Chief got right to the point—”Staff Sergeant Westmoreland, why did you cancel the assignment on one of my sergeants?” I could have chosen to lie or tell the truth. I did not hold back; I had said to him that the action was because my supervisor wanted another person placed in that position, and I felt like it was nepotism. “Thank you for your honesty, Staff Sergeant Westmoreland,” is all the Chief said to me after I shared my comments.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving home from Cullman, Alabama, from visiting relatives. I received a call from my supervisor on my cell phone. He sounded drunk and he told me to get ready to be fired in the morning. I had pissed off our Chief by defying his authority. Up till then, I had just experienced a very relaxing vacation with some of my family. Sure enough—I had to report to work early the next day and I was fired.

The Chief told me that I was an unprofessional sergeant. Lots of people were complaining about me. When I asked for details, the Chief said to me he did not have to give me examples. “Pack your work items and report to the Supply Orderly Room. That is your new job!” This action was a demotion and an insult to my career.

I asked to speak to my Chief’s supervisor, who was a Lieutenant Colonel to appeal this decision on my new job. He told me that no one could touch the “Chief.” He was untouchable and the leader of many groups in the San Antonio area. He told me to make the best of my situation.

Shocked and betrayed, I followed the orders given to me. The next day, I reached out to the Head Quarters Inspector General staff and requested an investigation on the Chief. I had been working ethically and complying with all the command’s policies. I had to adamantly demand an investigation when I was first told to file my concerns elsewhere.

It would take almost a year, and with my cooperation with the inspectors, the Chief who had abused his position of authority was reduced in rank and found guilty of many other charges. The year had been a long one, filled with retaliation and people acting disrespectfully to me. I would receive calls in the middle of the night with heavy breathing and lots of ugly stares from people on the base who were friends with the Chief who fired me. I would end up working for a supervisor who openly told me she was a devil worshipper and would make my life miserable. I would lose 25 pounds from all the stress, but I grabbed my fear by the hand and took it with me. I never stopped trying to get a fair resolution. I was scared, but I was using every ounce of courage to do the right thing.

I did receive a fair remedy, and I transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida within 30 days of the conclusion of the investigation. There were too many friends of the Chief at Randolph Air Force base, and I needed a fresh start. It would be a couple of years later, and a girlfriend who had worked at the Pentagon with me shared that my story had come up at her Senior Noncommissioned Officer Leadership course. My story of standing up to the Chief of Enlisted Assignments in Air Education and Training Command was now an example of ethics. You could have blown me away with a feather!

One person can make a difference. We are always on parade, and we never know who is watching us. Each day—we can face our fears and do the right thing. I would find out that my actions had a positive ripple effect on all assignments in the Air Force. The Head Quarter Inspector General staff would tell me that they interviewed over 100 people, who all told them I was an outstanding professional in their own words. I would go on to use my skills to help others from my experience. That is what adversity taught me.

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