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Reserve MTI embraces challenges, follows path to dream come true

  • Published
  • By Debbie Gildea
  • 340th Flying Training Group

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Tech. Sgt. Sharon Collado is a Reserve military training instructor supervisor at the 433rd Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Unlike many people, she knows that she can do anything she wants to do. She's proved it to herself countless times throughout her 18 year Air Force career, but long before she enlisted, her dad, a career Air Force information manager, told her so.

Following the path he set, she joined the Air Force in 2002 to be an information manager/knowledge operations specialist, and set off on a journey that led her to a variety of opportunities and challenges in a host of locations across the country, both as a Regular Air Force (active duty) and Reserve Airman, and she's not done by a long shot.

As an active duty Airman, her career included knowledge operations assignments at Florida State University's ROTC program, Maxwell Air Force Base, and Colorado Springs.  It was while assigned to Maxwell that the possibility of being an MTI first occurred to her. While serving on the base honor guard, she met a former MTI whose presence lit a fire in the young Airman.

"She was so sharp, so professional and I knew, that was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be," Collado said.

MTI duty wasn't open to junior enlisted members, though, so she tucked the goal into her list of intentions and continued to seek other career and personal challenges. One of those brought her to a major career decision point, and her decision put her on a path toward making her intention a reality.

While stationed at Peterson AFB, Colo., she decided to focus her academic efforts on a different career field, and dove into completing her nursing pre-requisites. When she was accepted into the full-time University of Colorado nursing program, she had 13 years of service behind her. Walking away from the service she loved, especially with so many years on the books, was a tough call, but the need to embrace this new opportunity was impossible to deny.

Fortunately, the Air Force Reserve offered the perfect solution, and a position just happened to be available at the right time, enabling her to transition from active duty to Reserve and accept a traditional Reserve position with the 70th Flying Training Squadron at the Air Force Academy.

That transition alone was a pretty significant challenge.

"It's a whole different ball game," she said of the move. "It's a challenge to learn – so much about being Reserve is unlike anything in the RegAF – but it's well worth it! As a Reserve member, you really have more options and the best of both civilian and military worlds."

Although she was working to become a nurse, and serving as the NCO in charge of a Reserve flying squadron support staff, she still harbored that desire to become an Air Force MTI. It was a goal that may have seemed impossible at that moment, but achieving it was closer than she knew. The 70th FTS, assigned to the 340th Flying Training Group, happens to be a sister squadron to the 433rd TRS in San Antonio, which is the only all-Reserve MTI squadron in the Air Force.

As a TR, Collado didn't have a lot of interaction with other enlisted members in the group, but there is an annual enlisted conference, when enlisted members from the 340th headquarters and its seven squadrons meet for professional development.

MTIs from the 433rd attend that conference.

Suddenly, the path to her goal was open, and Collado faced a new critical decision point. With a hard-won nursing degree in hand, she could have her pick of countless medical opportunities and still serve as a traditional Reservist with the 70th. Or, she could take another risk, embrace another challenge and pursue that intention that took root in her young Airman heart.

Collado completed MTI training in August 2018.

As a new MTI, she attacked every challenge with the same fervor that she had pursued every goal throughout her career.

"It bothered me to not be a subject matter expert, so I did what I had to do to be the SME and to excel," she explained.

As a result of her determination and exceptional performance, with less than two years in the special duty, she was promoted to the MTI supervisor position she currently holds.

It comes with challenges too, and she's embraced them as the price of improving, growing and becoming the SME.

She'll need to hurry, though, if she wants to master every MTI supervisor duty and skill, because she's moving again.

As a young administrative specialist, her earliest career goal was to become a group or wing executive staff member. Her superintendent at the 433rd, Chief Master Sgt. Tamara Strange, knew about her dream and when the 22nd Air Force command chief enlisted executive position was announced, Strange encouraged Collado to apply.

She applied, but really didn’t think anything would come of it and was completely stunned when Chief Master Sgt. Imelda Johnson, 22nd Air Force Command Chief, emailed to invite her to interview.

"I was so nervous! I tried to be confident and show 'me,' but I didn't think I did well. I told Chief Strange afterward, 'Well, I guess you'll have me for another year'," Collado said.

June 2, in the midst of utter chaos supervising a melting pot of active duty and Reserve MTIs who were pushing hundreds of trainees through BMT in the middle of a pandemic that wreaked havoc on every single process, Collado learned that she had been selected.

"If this isn't every dream come true, I don't know what it is! I'm so excited to go back to my original field, back to my roots," she said. "And, I'm going to get to learn from and be mentored by a strong, enlisted woman! I don’t even have the words!"

Even better, she'll be going back to her career roots with another stripe on her shoulder, and the command chief has already talked with her about attending senior NCO academy in residence, and advised her to start thinking about where she wants to go next.

Every critical decision point contributed to Collado's journey toward her dream job, but the one that took her out of her comfort zone (and helped her prove again that she can do anything) was the decision to become an MTI.

Being an MTI isn't for everybody, but it is definitely worth considering, she believes.

"If you are interested, you should start by having a transparent conversation with the MTI recruiter here. It is an incredible opportunity, but it is also challenging, stressful and time consuming, so you have to be honest with yourself and determine if it's right for you," she advises.

It can be tempting, for some, to stay too long, as well. But that isn't the best route for the member or for the Reserve.

"After three years, you need to go back to your career field. This isn't and shouldn't be a lifelong job. Come here, become a SME, learn all you can and take that knowledge, that leadership ability back out to the field," she added. "You may not go back to the same unit you came from, but be open to whatever the future brings, and you may be surprised at how many doors will open."