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Commander's Corner: Doors of Opportunity

Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Harper dives into his perspective on opportunities in the Air Force. "From visiting 19 countries, to being the first in my family to receive a college degree, to achieving the rank of chief master sergeant, I never thought that this skinny little kid from Vardaman, Mississippi, would have experienced the things that I have throughout my career," Harper said. "So stay on the lookout for those doors of opportunity, and when they open don’t be afraid to step through them." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin N. Valmoja)

Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Harper dives into his perspective on taking opportunities in the Air Force. "From visiting 19 countries, to being the first in my family to receive a college degree, to achieving the rank of chief master sergeant, I never thought that this skinny little kid from Vardaman, Mississippi, would have experienced the things that I have throughout my career," Harper said. "So stay on the lookout for those doors of opportunity, and when they open don’t be afraid to step through them." (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin N. Valmoja)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

I am often asked, “Chief, what was the secret to your many achievements throughout your career?” To which I would respond with, “doors of opportunity,” which is not a secret. Former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor has been quoted saying that one of the keys to being successful is to take advantage of the opportunities when they come along. This is exactly what I was able to do, and the main reason that I joined the Air Force.

I grew up in a small town with not many employment opportunities; you either worked in the sweet potato fields or in the local factories. I knew that the Air Force would provide me with the doors of opportunity to grow personally and professionally. However, for me those doors of opportunity presented themselves in different ways.

There are doors of opportunity that may be highly recommended for you and may come with a slight shove when it opens. I can remember one morning, my supervisor and I were talking in the hallway at work, and our flight chief came up to us.

We went to parade rest, and he stated, “Airman Harper you have a good look about you.”

I remember standing there thinking to myself: “where is this conversation going?”  

He went on to say, “The base honor guard could use you on the team. We need you to show up for honor guard practice next Wednesday at 1500.” 

As he was walking away, he stated, “Don’t worry you are going to be great… make us proud!”

I then turned to my supervisor and asked, “What just happened?”

My supervisor replied, “Well it looks like you just joined the base honor guard… good luck.”

Joining the honor guard turned out to be the best thing for this introvert. I loved being on the team so much that I did it for almost three years. Being on the team truly helped shape me into the Airman that I am today. If I hadn’t been given a gentle push through that door of opportunity, I might not have joined on my own. I am forever grateful to my flight chief for the nudge.

There are doors of opportunity that will open and close fast, and you have to be ready and willing to step through them at a moment’s notice.

While stationed overseas on a Friday afternoon, I was going to pick up my wife from work. She worked in what used to be called the orderly room which was next to the first sergeant’s office. 

As I was waiting for my wife to finish up for the day, my first sergeant comes out of his office and tells me that he just received notification that he has to travel out of town this weekend and desperately needed someone to fill in for him.

Previously, we had conversions about me becoming a first sergeant. So he asked me if I would cover for him, and he needed an answer right away. I hesitated for a minute, but nervously told him that I would do it.

He handed me his cell phone and a reference binder with contact information along with the usual line, “don’t worry nothing is going to happen,” and off he went.

Sure enough, a couple of hours later I received a Red Cross message concerning an Airman’s mother who was in critical condition in the hospital. I was able to square away everything needed to get the Airman home in time to spend the last few hours with her before she passed away.

This was when I knew that becoming a first sergeant was something that I had to do. I later applied and was accepted to be a first sergeant, which is by far the best job in the Air Force.

I am so thankful that I jumped on my first sergeant’s offer to fill in for him. If I had hesitated too long and decided not to do it, I might not have volunteered to become a first sergeant.

Then there are doors of opportunity that you will have to go out and seek.

After a little over a year at my last assignment, I was in need of a change. It was my second job as a squadron superintendent, and I felt that it was time to do something different. I saw an opportunity to volunteer for my current assignment and was selected as a mission support group superintendent working for the outstanding men and women of the 47th Flying Training Wing.

I am truly blessed to get the opportunity to serve in this role, but I probably wouldn’t have been given the opportunity if I hadn’t sought out and volunteered for it.

I will tell you that doors of opportunity will come your way, but they might present themselves in different ways.

You may be directed towards some doors of opportunity accompanied with a nudge in order to go through them. Some doors of opportunity will only be open for a brief moment, and you have to be ready. Then there are some doors of opportunity that you will have to go out and find. I contribute a huge part of my achievements to the many doors of opportunity that came my way.

From visiting 19 countries, to being the first in my family to receive a college degree, to achieving the rank of chief master sergeant, I never thought that this skinny little kid (not so skinny anymore) from Vardaman, Mississippi, with a population of 1,200 people, would have experienced the things that I have throughout my career.  So stay on the lookout for those doors of opportunity, and when they open don’t be afraid to step through them.