FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Penn. --
Senior Master Sgt. Kristin Graby, the Senior Enlisted Leader for the 203rd Weather Flight earned the 2021 Outstanding Airman of the Year award in the Senior NCO category for both the 193rd Special Operations Wing and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Graby has served in various positions within the 203rd WF for the past 20 years.
The Annville native recently sat down for a conversation about her experience in the military, change, her love of making lists, and a few other topics.
-Can you talk about some of the things you’ve been doing this past year that led to your success?
So I think the biggest impact, or the thing that stands out the most is I did a six-month, temporary tour down in Wing Plans with Lt. Col. McNamara. That was totally outside of my comfort zone, but that was kind of a career broadening experience for me. It just so happened while I was down there that we withdrew all the troops from Afghanistan. I ended up handling all of the state activation for wing members supporting the different areas of operation. It was a totally different mindset at the wing level versus out here at the weather flight. I was so out of my comfort zone, but I think that's what most people saw in my package [for the award].
-In hindsight, how has that experience in Wing Plans helped your career development?
It was huge. Next year I'll hit my 20 years, traditionally, and I've always been in the weather flight. The last 10 I've been a full time AGR (Active Guard Reserve) so I've only ever done this, working with these people and only ever going to the 193rd Regional Support Group. So going out to the work at the Wing, the networking was insane. It was awesome. I got to learn a ton about the Wing’s missions and its flying mission, which I've never really had any experience with. I first started when Chief Master Sgt. Lenger was still around. He was an awesome individual. I learned so much from him, a fantastic mentor. He actually got me on a bird and we went down to Hurlbert Field where I got to see Air Force Special Operations Command and that side of things. Lt. Col. McNamara was also an awesome mentor. We went through just a lot of leadership skills, leadership development, problem solving skills, thought processes, he's big into writing things out and having a good, solid process.
-What originally brought you into the military?
I was actually a freshman at Shippensburg University. I kind of had it in the back of my mind that it would be something cool to do. I enrolled at Ship, did my first semester and it was okay. During that semester, 9/11 happened and I felt like I should do something. A cool side note, my uncle, he actually started this unit [203rd WF]. So when I took my ASVAB, and I'm looking at the jobs I could potentially have, weather was one of them. I thought that would be really cool, not knowing that, 20 years down the road, I would be the SEL for the weather flight that he started. So yeah, I think it was just wanting to give back after 9/11.
-Can you talk about a setback or failure you’ve had that you ended up learning from?
There's always something that was like, crap, I missed that. I think over the years, this will be combined of a bunch of failures that I could lump it into one category, it would be the “not asking for help when I'm overwhelmed.” So if I had to go back and look at all the little things, I miss this deadline, or whatever, a lot of it is because I acted like I have something to prove, that I can do this as a one-man shop. Every other squadron has multiple, full-time Airmen, so sometimes I feel like I have to prove that I can do this. Meanwhile, I'm failing at, you know, multiple different things. So asking for help over the years would have been something I wish I would have done more often and sooner. I've gotten a lot better at delegating stuff out to not only my traditional personnel, but allowing other users to help me if they're willing, which most are. Having good relationships too, is helpful. But yeah, I wish I would have definitely along the way, instead of sitting here being flustered and upset, I wish I would have asked for help and guidance instead of thinking I can do it all myself.
-How do you stay focused or clear your mind when things get stressful or overwhelming?
So I have learned, you really have to weed through, prioritize and pick what is the most important thing. You know, what am I going to get yelled at the most if I don't do, and you just prioritize and make a list. If my mom were here, she would laugh because she constantly had lists everywhere. And she always tells us that even to this day, make a list, make a list. So I like lists. That has helped me a ton, online calendars, being organized. I think we've come a long way like with Microsoft Teams, and just the ability to post on calendars and share it, and how to have task boards on Teams and keeping everybody on the same page. I find that from drill to drill we can forget what we did. So we've gotten really good at creating task boards, assigning tasks, delegating tasks to people, and just keeping your head up to what’s going on. You know, in most situations, the things that seem super stressful and super important at this moment, a month down the road won’t be a big deal. So in most cases it seems like we have a lot of very quick reactions to things where I think if we would think things through, get a good game plan first and then react, it would probably go a lot better.
-How do you stay motivated and productive?
Yeah, you know what? On drill weekends, when the guardsmen walk in, that's my motivation. This is my full time job. I think we have it really good here, we get time to work out, I have great view every day, I can go out, we can do outside exercises, people we work with are great. So to stay motivated, just knowing that they're giving up a weekend, they volunteer to be here, the least I can do is make sure that my game is ready to go. I'm ready to help them get their training.
-What advice would you give a young Airmen that's just joining the military or looking to progress their career?
I would tell them, first of all, that time flies, it will go by in the blink of an eye. I would tell them if they're not happy with their career that they’re in, they should cross train or shadow other career fields. I would tell them not to get stuck in the same spot. So I've been here a long time in the same unit and I think other than deploying, and other little experiences along the way, that six-month tour I just did down at the Wing, that was amazing for me. Don't be afraid to ask for a change. If you're kind of in a rut, expand, get out, do something different, get new training, bring ideas to the table. Don't be quiet. We have a lot of newer Airmen that are super talented, super smart and they just don't have an avenue to communicate their ideas and thoughts behind some of these processes. I welcome it. What can we do to make this better for you all, it’s your Air Force, I'm going to be gone soon. You're the next to be me, so how do you want this to go? How do you want to run the programs?
-What advice would you tell them to ignore?
You're always going to have to ignore the naysayers, and don't be a naysayer. It's easy to get pulled into that, I've been there many many times, but there's always going to be people that are disgruntled, that are unhappy. You really have to figure out what your goal is. You know, if your goal is to make chief one day, then you set your sights on that and you keep pushing forward. If you're one of those that are disgruntled, you know upset, then move on and go do something else that you enjoy doing. I would definitely tell the younger ones, if you're around somebody who's negative, go somewhere else, find something else, move offices or even go to your leadership. When there's a couple negative people, it can spread like wildfire.
-Do you have an internal code or mantra?
I think that something that I hold very, very important is health and wellness. That is, like, if I don't get my workout in I am miserable and everyone around me will be miserable. I think we lose that a lot of times, we get so stuck in the grind of day-to-day, I mean, I have two toddlers, I’m married, we have a house, we have animals, I’m here 40-plus hours a week, and it's so easy to push that to the side. It’s not just for physical health, but mental health for me. That's my time to mentally prepare, usually I work out in the mornings, it’s my quiet time. I don't want to be talked to. I don’t want to be bothered. So if I don't have that, it just sets my tone for the day. It's important, without your heath, especially nowadays, what do you have? I think a lot of people had a rude awakening the past couple years, with stuff going on. It's like you have to maintain your health or that’s it. So it's like a daily ritual for me. I don't want to say it's a chore. I don't have to work out. But for me, it's just part of my routine, like brushing my teeth. It's not an option.
-Speaking of working out, what is your go-to workout?
Strength training hands down, I'm not a heavy weightlifter, not like a cross-fitter or anything but you put some dumbbells in front of me and a mat. Yeah, I love strength training. I typically do cardio once or twice a week, but I switch that up, mostly running or hiking. I’m usually on the treadmill this time of year when it is a little cold. I’m waiting to go back out. I aim for five or six days a week to get some sort of workout.
-Is there a book that's influenced you that you that you would recommend? If so, why?
I don’t really have time to read right now because I have two toddlers. So what I did start doing though, and it's going to kind of go back to the last question you asked me, is I listen to a lot of podcasts. Even while I'm here at work and I'm typing away doing forms, whatever, it may be on in the background. I would put a podcast on when I was driving to Middletown to the Wing, it was a 45 minute drive for me one way so I would listen. I started listening to a lot of health podcasts. I really enjoy them. Things change so much in the medical field, and health and fitness is no different, but I do enjoy learning more about ways to make ourselves healthier, make our kids healthier, teach them how to be better people, and how to take care of their self.
-What do you focus on in your spare time, do you have any hobbies?
I love gardening. We have chickens too. Pretty much anything outdoors. Most of our travel involves going up to Northern Pennsylvania so we're big into the outdoors. Our kids have four wheelers and my son just got a little snowmobile. We were up last weekend in Tioga County snowmobiling. But yeah, gardening, flowerbeds, chickens, not being contained within four walls. Obviously exercise is important.