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NEWS | July 15, 2020

Making history: 633rd SFS welcomes first female African American commander

By Airman 1st Class Sarah Dowe 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – History is full of firsts. The 633rd Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, added another first to the books July 15, 2020.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Lidia Iyassu, 633rd SFS commander, assumed command of the squadron, becoming the first African American female to lead the defenders at JBLE.

“It is very humbling to be trusted to lead our Airmen,” Iyassu said. “This is what I am passionate about and I am excited for this opportunity.”

As a female leader in a male-dominated career field, Iyassu talked about obstacles she’s overcome to get where she is today.

“The first thing that comes to mind is my height,” Iyassu said. “Just because I’m five feet tall and a female does not mean I can’t push myself on every physical aspect of our job.”

Born in Ethiopia, Iyassu’s inspiration to join the Air Force began at a young age while her father served in the Ethiopian Air Force.

Because of turmoil within the country, Iyassu’s father had to flee the country without his family. Later, Iyassu’s mother received word from him and smuggled herself and the children out of the country by hiding in the trunks of cars and other vehicles. They were able to meet in Kenya where they spent the next year living in a refugee camp.

Their application to come to the United States was accepted in 1991.

Iyassu knew the Air Force was something she wanted to do and she commissioned after completing college.

“I love the family you make in the Air Force,” Iyassu said. “You get to meet people with so many different backgrounds and history—the inclusiveness is just phenomenal and it really keeps you going.”

Iyassu has commanded two Security Forces Squadrons, including her last assignment at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.

“My previous assignments have taught me a lot,” Iyassu said. “A big thing is building relationships at the peer level so you have support when you need it. Empowerment, even at the lowest level, builds those relationships, partnerships and networks.”

According to Iyassu, her proudest moment was when she left her previous unit and could see what a family they had become. Not just those wearing the uniform, but the spouses and families of the service members as well.

“I am looking forward to building a culture invested in empowerment, professionalism, dignity and respect. Those are my goals,” Iyassu said. “When you come to our side of the house, the 633rd Security Forces Squadron side, you know we all breathe the same. It is a bond, a tribe.”

Over the coming weeks, Iyassu will settle into her new position as commander, yet again, and begin to lead a new squadron of Airmen to fulfill the Air Force mission, the mission of JBLE and the mission of the 633rd SFS by protecting those who protect our nation.