(Note: I met Chief Skibitsky the first time 16 months ago during basic military training. I heard her clicking footsteps approaching my flight to give us some much needed correction in an uncomfortably loud way. Seeing her stripes, even as a trainee, I knew a huge amount of dedication and hard work went into earning those stripes. I had the opportunity to talk with the chief during her visit to Vance Air Force Base recently.)
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Chief Master Sgt. Hope L. Skibitsky, now the command chief of the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, has had an incredible journey, from leaving for the military at 17 with nothing to her name, to becoming a command chief.
“I have been privileged to have what I consider a great life,” said Skibitsky. “But when you stop to think about life in general, you don't know any different than your own.”
Growing up in a poor, abusive household, Skibitsky and her five siblings made the most of their situation until they could do better for themselves.
“We were very poor, but didn’t know we were poor until people told us,” said Skibitsky.
Going to school was very important growing up, said Skibitsky. “Mainly because the greatest examples of adults and parenting and leadership I saw were my teachers. We also got free breakfast and lunch at school, which was a huge deal for us.”
She wasn't really interested in the academic portion of school but went every day. “School was the place that took care of me.”
Leaving home at an early age, Skibitsky managed to get by until she graduated high school by staying with friends and moving from place to place.
“I was fending for myself trying to figure out where I was going to be,” said Skibitsky. “Eventually I moved in with a preacher’s family, the Halls, and they were absolutely incredible. They offered me room and board to guarantee I was going to graduate high school.”
The Halls invested their time in her and took care of her until she graduated. Then it was time to figure out what was next.
“I didn’t think college was an option for me. I didn’t have the money,” said Skibitsky. “So I thought to myself, ‘What about the military?”
Her father retired from the Air Force when she was very young. “I didn’t know that much about it, but I knew it was an option,” said Skibitsky.
The family she was living with thought it was a great idea. They helped her look into it and drove her to the nearest recruiting office to see about joining.
“I don’t remember much of the conversation I had with the recruiter other than asking, ‘When can I go?’” said Skibitsky. She was only 17 at the time, so the preacher signed the paperwork as her guardian. “The next thing I knew I was in the Delayed Enlistment Program.”
Not long after that, the recruiter scheduled her for the military entrance processing station, and she left for Air Force basic military training.
“I couldn’t have been a more clueless Airman when I arrived,” said Skibitsky. “I had no idea what my job was, or really anything about the Air Force for that matter. I just knew I wanted to do it and succeed.”
Skibitsky entered basic training without a guaranteed career field and was offered a job as a medic. She accepted and completed her technical training.
“Being a medic was absolutely amazing,” said Skibitsky. “I had so many options and opportunities from working in labor and delivery, education and training and even working in an intensive care unit where we worked in the emergency room and performed ambulance runs.”
While assigned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Skibitsky was the NCO in charge of the health and wellness center. After that, she went to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to be a military training instructor for several years.
Then it was back into the medical field where Skibitsky worked in labor and delivery, family health and pediatrics. “I even deployed a couple of times,” she said.
She added diversity to her job when she became a career assistance advisor for several years, and then served as a squadron superintendent in a medical treatment facility.
“My next assignment sent me back to Lackland Air Force Base to be the Chief of Basic Military Training, which was an incredible opportunity,” said Skibitsky. While there, she was offered the position of command chief at Cannon Air Force Base.
“I never once looked up to see what the next step was,” said Skibitsky. “I was just trying really hard to be good at whatever position I was currently in.”
Skibitsky assumed her current position as command chief at Cannon Air Force Base in August 2018.
“The Air Force has been such a privilege for me,” said Skibitsky. “All the things I’ve learned, all the opportunities I’ve had, all the people I’ve met, all the experiences I’ve garnered. I could never have done any of this without the Air Force.”