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NEWS | Oct. 24, 2014

ALS staff bids fond farewell to mentor

By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

For the staff at Langley Air Force Base's Airman Leadership School, saying goodbye to their commandant, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Leyla Gillett, is difficult even though she just moved down the street to her old stomping grounds in the hospital lab.

"Sergeant Gillett has been a key asset here at Langley and at the schoolhouse, she's been a mentor and supervisor to all of us," said Master Sgt. Bryan Beers, incoming commandant and ALS instructor. "I'm getting ready to transition into her position and she constantly provides me great feedback."

This type of communicative involvement with the schoolhouse is nothing new for Gillett. From day one of taking the commandant position four years ago, she had to not only help others, but reach out for help.

"When I walked in I was clueless," said Gillett of taking over the commandant position with no turn-over. "There were a lot of things I learned along the way, and I kept finding more and more references. I reached out to fellow commandants especially for the Barnes Center policies because they were the experts."

Learning from other commandants and especially reaching out to the various wings' leadership at Langley created a strong working relationship with the base.

"She's created so many solid relationships across base, across all of the wings - I don't know if there are many people on base who don't know who she is just because of her involvement," said Beers.

"I've just made it my mission to reach out," she added of finding out what the base's various commands expectations were of ALS. "I need the command chiefs, I need the first sergeants - there are a lot of things I would not have been able to do without their support."

Whether enrolling the right students at the right time, preparing for graduation, or dealing with disciplinary or personal issues, base leadership and first sergeants helped the schoolhouse provide Airmen with the care and attention needed to become successful noncommissioned officers, she said.

"I learned early on in my career as a lab technician to get out of the cubical and talk to people," she said.

Seeing how other areas affect the hospital or clinic she worked at helped Gillett better understand her team's impact as well. To further that understanding, she would also invite other medical technicians to work in the lab and encouraged her lab technicians to visit other areas as well.

"That's the approach I've taken with ALS because Langley is a huge base, so if I don't have good relationships with all the units here, it could easily be a nightmare, not just for me, but for the staff and the students," she said.

One of her biggest challenges was explaining to leadership how difficult the instructors job can be as it is a challenge to quantify the after-duty hours and impact of such.

"I see how difficult their job is -- day-to-day teaching in the classroom for eight hours, and sometimes having to counsel students after hours because of something going on at home," she explained. "A lot of times people just see what they do in the classroom as their job, but there is a lot that goes on after duty hours, from grading papers or to being there for students having issues at home."

Gillett said she recognized that the school has a quota of students to graduate, but the school can meet that number without exhausting her staff as they had been when she first arrived.

"They were running a very rigorous schedule maximizing every class," she said.  "I looked at that and thought 'Why are we doing this?'"

Within her first year at ALS, she shut down the schoolhouse for 30 days so her staff could regroup. She also adjusted the staffs' hours so they could have time to focus on personal priorities such as education, fitness and family.

Gillett additionally made her vision clear to her staff.

"She made it a point that we need to communicate with each other clearly as instructors because if you can't communicate with the staff it's going to impact you in the classroom," said Staff Sgt. Damar Turner, ALS instructor. "Those small things add up; what she's done has helped us get back to 100% as far as staying resilient."

With resiliency at its highest peak thanks to Gillett, Beers knows he has some shoes to fill.

"She's definitely left a legacy through communication, networking and understanding how to communicate at both levels, not only working with leadership, but the staff here to make what everyone needs to happen possible," Beers said.

Beers plans to maximize everything he has learned from his predecessor to balance commandant duties while taking care of student and instructor needs, just as Gillett did.

"Coming into this job, my goal was to get the school ready for recertification. There were a lot of things that needed to be taken care of and I knew I had two years to do it," she said. "But, when I got over here, it really opened my eyes to everything going on in the Air Force, it really changed my perspective. Mentoring is a goal I have now."

As the instructors' mentor leaves, they know she is someone they can always go to even though she won't always be in plain sight, said Turner.

"Her next work center, her next commander is very fortunate to have her," Turner said. "She's in my opinion, one of the greater leaders in the Air Force. I'm pretty confident she'll be a chief master sergeant one day."

The 633rd Air Base Wing Command Chief, Chief Master Sgt.Trae King, agrees.

At Gillett's last ALS graduation as the commandant, King handed a pair of stripes to Gillett and said, "I'm giving you the stripes straight from my shirt; I know you're going to need these one day."