Farewell is not goodbye

  • Published
  • By Lisa Gonzales
  • Air Force Safety Center

The Air Force Safety Center will soon say farewell to Master Sgt Sarah Lenker, chief of the Reports and Analysis Branch, as she transitions to her new assignment next month. In her new position she will serve as the 344th Training Squadron safety schoolhouse flight chief, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas under Air Education and Training Command.  

When asked what she would recommend to someone coming into a position at AFSEC, she shared her thoughts and advice.

“Be humble and learn something every day,” said Lenker. “Be open about what you know, what you don’t and what you disagree with. Be vulnerable and keep the lines of communication continuously open and always encourage discussions about anything, with anyone.”

Lenker started her Air Force career in December 2003. After graduating Basic Military Training and technical school for maintenance, her first assignment was at the 75th Operations Support Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Her maintenance career lasted 10 years, and during that time several of her duty assignments included Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany and Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

In January 2014, Lenker transitioned to the safety career field. Her first assignment as a safety professional took her to Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, Texas for two years. Her second safety assignment took her to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. After arriving at Tinker she commented that she felt like an “outsider,” but soon realized she was welcomed in as a part of the team. By being part of a tight-knit team dynamic helped add and build onto her skillsets. Every member in the office worked on mishaps, inspections, or daily duties; regardless if it was a flight or an occupational event they had the opportunity to work the tasks as a team.

“I had been to two different bases as a safety professional, Sheppard and Tinker, before being assigned to AFSEC,” said Lenker. “I never really expected to work at the Safety Center because I enjoyed the daily flow at the Wing. I built so many relationships across the Wing outside of the safety career that I knew I was going to miss it”.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Master Sgt. Sarah Lenker in 2017 when I was assigned to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. I had been out of safety for about two years and, although that is a relatively short amount of time, the career field had endured massive changes. I quickly realized how little I knew and I relied heavily on Sarah to bring me up to speed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Amber Person, chief enlisted manager and safety career field manager at the Air Force Safety Center. “Sarah was a technical sergeant then, with only a few years of safety experience, but she was a force to be reckoned with. Sarah had incredible focus and determination to get the job done, and get it done right, while building relationships along the way. That is a valuable skill to have as a safety professional and I witnessed her using it to break barriers and build bridges across the wing.” 

While assigned to Tinker, she had the opportunity to deploy as a safety technician to Air Base 201 in Niger, Africa where she was able to leverage her Tinker experience and lessons learned to replicate that positive team dynamic at her deployed location. Lenker stated she was with a Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE) unit in the middle of the Sahara Desert building a base which was one of the largest troop led construction project in history of the Air Force. Lenker commented that being a part of the mission and being welcomed in as part of the team made it a once in a lifetime experience.

“It’s been five years since we met and, during our time at AFSEC, I have watched her continue to grow and refine these skills. She understands the importance of being challenged and I believe her next position at the schoolhouse will do just that. Although she will be missed here, I can’t wait to see what she does as she moves on,” said Person.

 After spending four and a-half years at Tinker, Lenker decided she was ready to expand her skillsets and volunteered for a position at AFSEC. She arrived in December of 2019 during a manning shortage and discussions of shutdowns across the nation due to COVID-19. She found herself flying solo for over six weeks and quickly familiarizing herself with her many duties and tasks.

“Every day was about learning and experiencing something new,” said Lenker. “Coming into the position showed me things that most safety professionals only see once in their career, if at all.”

“Master Sgt. Sarah Lenker has been a key asset to the Air Force Safety Center. Her work ethic, “safety intelligence,” and dedication to making Airmen and Guardians safer, has greatly improved the Reports and Analysis Branch,” said William Walkowiak, chief of Occupational Safety for the DAF. “Sarah is successful because she has the ability to ‘put herself in the other person’s shoes.’ She understands safety from ‘boots on the ground’ all the way up to the Department of Defense Policy level. She will be missed and I wish her well as she transitions to the safety schoolhouse where I know she will be a success teaching our newest safety professionals.”

While at AFSEC, Lenker provided guidance to safety professionals by evaluating Department of the Air Force instructions and Department of Defense guidance to determine what will make the career field better.

“I had to shift my perspective quite a bit from being at a wing to headquarters level,” said Lenker. “Decision making felt heavier than decisions I made while working for the wings.” 

Lenker commented when she moves to the schoolhouse she is eager to learn from the instructors and see what safety looks like to them. By bringing the knowledge she acquired at AFSEC, her hope is to help prepare the newest safety professionals of the future.

“I’ve been fortunate in building career bridges with many safety professionals along the way that I will carry with me to my next step,” said Lenker. “By understanding where others are coming from we can learn quite a bit.”

Lenker will pin on senior master sergeant in November after she moves to her new assignment.

“I’m excited to share my experiences from AFSEC in my new position, and encourage those coming here to embrace the discomfort that comes with new experiences,” said Lenker. “Stay humble and allow yourself to be vulnerable, and you will earn the trust of your peers and leaders. When leadership trusts safety, we all succeed.”