Paying it forward: Command chief’s goal of leaving an impact

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mariette Adams
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Chief Master Sgt. Melanie Noel grew up in a small town in southern Indiana on the border of Illinois, where there wasn’t a big military population. Although there was some influence in the community, it was different in Noel’s family.

The current 6th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) command chief, Noel was influenced from a young age. She recently recalled one of the defining moments of her childhood was when she noticed a triangular box with a flag in her home, commonly called a shadow box.

Full of curiosity, she learned that her mother, Marilyn Brady, was an Army widow. Marilyn was eight months pregnant with Noel’s older sister when she received the news about her husband’s death.

Her mother didn’t talk much about his service, but did however, express the gratitude she held for the Army and how her husband’s military funeral left a lasting impression on her.

“That planted a seed in me at an early age because I could sense the feeling my mom had and felt I needed to pay that back somehow,” said Noel. “Joining the military was a way of paying back the services my mom received as an Army widow.”

She goes on to say that it was the best decision she had ever made.

At age 17, Noel joined the Air Force as a security forces member with the hopes of becoming a military working dog handler. Her plan was to serve her 4-year term, then separate to become a park ranger.

During technical training school, she found out becoming a dog handler was not a possibility. At the time, security forces fell under two jobs; security and law enforcement. Her job in security meant she couldn’t become a dog handler. Goals shattered, Noel again considered completing her four years and separating.

Then, as they so often do, plans changed again. She married and had two children and decided to continue her Air Force career. As a new mom and looking for more stability, Noel chose to cross train into the personnel career field.

“There is a point and time in your career where a light bulb goes off, and you realize that we wear the fabric of the nation; it’s not just about having a job that pays your bills. It’s not about coming to work Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and going home,” said Noel. “You start to realize this is truly my extended family and there are people here that really care about me.

“That ‘care about me’ piece was reinforced by people I had the opportunity to serve alongside and certainly people who were in leadership positions above me. Specifically my first sergeant at my second base.”

When her hard work was recognized by her first sergeant, it lit a spark in her that still burns fiercely.

“Once people start to take note that you are doing something good…and they voice that to you, you start to realize people really do care,” said Noel. “I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to keep doing great things for the Air Force, not because of the recognition, but simply because I thought I was making a difference and wanted to continue that.”

Throughout her 24 years of service, she has had many opportunities from being a first sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, training squadron, to being a senior enlisted advisor for the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Noel wants to continue to serve and give back.

“Over time, I have had the opportunity to do many great things within the Air Force that have had a positive impact on my life,” explained Noel. “I feel a huge sense of obligation to pay that forward to anybody and everybody that I could possibly positively impact directly or indirectly. I continue to do what I do, hoping I can have the same type of impact on someone like my first sergeant had on me.”

For Tech. Sgt. Candice Wegehaupt, the command chief’s executive assistant assigned to the 6th AMW, Noel’s influence has already had a major impact on her.

"Chief Noel inspires me every day, because she is not only an incredible leader but a phenomenal woman, wife and mother," said Wegehaupt.

Noel not only mentors Wegehaupt, but also inspires her career goals.

"Although she is one of the busiest people I know, every day she makes time to mentor me, explain things to me and answers my questions," said Wegehaupt. "She genuinely cares about me and my development. She takes time to get to know every Airman she meets and she is invested in her conversation with Airmen whether it's me or someone in the hall way.”

Wegehaupt hopes that if one day she makes it to the command chief position, she can lead like Noel.

"If I am fortunate enough to get to the rank of command chief, I would want to be the type of role model and mentor she is to me and those around her," said Wegehaupt.

Throughout her life, Noel has lived by the idea of paying it forward and giving back. As a command chief, her goal for Team MacDill is to continue to become stronger moving forward. She believes a team is only as strong as its weakest link, and that everyone must actively work together to be better.

“I am an Airman; I just happen to be in this position,” explained Noel. “It doesn’t make me any different; it doesn’t make me special. It gives me the ability to meet legitimate needs of our Airmen, but I want them to know I am an Airman first.

“This position gives me added duties and responsibilities which I take very seriously, but it also affords me opportunities to make our team stronger…and I have additional opportunities to help people that may have a time of need. But at the end of the day, I’m an Airman and that is the most important thing.”