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Profile of an award-winning First Sergeant

By Senior Airman Megan M. Tracy 2d Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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Master Sgt. Keisha Yarbrough is no stranger to helping others. Growing up in New Haven, Conn., in the 1970's, Sergeant Yarbrough volunteered after school and on weekends helping under privileged children at the local boys and girls club. She spent her time helping kids with their homework and being there to listen when they needed a friend.

Fast forward more than 30 years and Sergeant Yarbrough is still helping others. As the Second Medical Group first sergeant, instead of helping kids with their homework after school, she spends her days helping Airmen with personal, financial and career-related problems.

"Being a first sergeant is one of the hardest jobs in the Air Force," says Sergeant Yarbrough. "This job requires commitment and dedication. The first sergeant is responsible for the morale, welfare and conduct of all the enlisted members in a squadron and is the adviser to the squadron commander concerning the enlisted force."

A typical day for Sergeant Yarbrough starts long before 7:30 a.m and ends long after everyone else has closed up shop and gone home. Although the job can be tough, emotionally demanding and physically exhausting, she says that knowing she has an important role in the lives of her Airmen, makes it all worthwhile.

"Every day brings a new experience," she says. "Being able to be there for my Airmen in any way is what I am here for."

One such instance that sticks out in Sergeant Yarbrough's mind happened before she even attended the First Sergeants Academy. As an eager, newly appointed first sergeant, the incident in the fall of 2008 set the standard for the level of care she would provide to her Airmen as a first sergeant.

In September of that year, then Senior Airman Phillip Myles and his girlfriend were enjoying the sunshine during a playful game of basketball when a wayward shot went flying. Airman Myles laughed and chased after the ball in an attempt to show off, but when he bent down to pick up the ball, instead of grabbing it and continuing the game, Airman Myles collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

As a result of the cardiac arrest, he was in a coma for two days and hospitalized until mid-October. Mr. Myles had a long road of recovery ahead of him. His brain was deprived of oxygen for more than 30 minutes and he suffered from amnesia, headaches, temporary blindness and difficulty walking; but, Sergeant Yarbrough was there every step of the way.

"Sergeant Yarbrough was a tremendous help," said Mr. Myles. "She helped me with everything. She took me to all my appointments everyday with a smile on her face. She helped my parents get settled in, took them out to dinner, kept them company and helped them with their grieving stage. That was what really touched my heart. My mother and father didn't know anyone and she came and kept them company."

For the Airmen of the 2d Maintenance Operations Squadron, September 2008 was a month of uncertainty, but with the help of Sergeant Yarbrough, they made it through -- together.

"I just want to say thank you," said Staff Sgt. Katie Huntington, a friend and coworker of Mr. Myles. "Without her, we probably wouldn't have made it through that time. She's a rock when you need someone to lean on. She's always strong and it's always good to have someone like that in your life."

Recently, Sergeant Yarbrough was recognized for her unwavering dedication and outstanding performance at the 2009 Air Force Global Strike Command Outstanding Airmen of the Year banquet. The room, that just moments before was eerily silent, erupted into loud cheers and applause as Sergeant Yarbrough was announced as the 2009 AFGSC First Sergeant of the Year and Outstanding Airman of the Year.

"My inspiration comes from our core values," she says. "Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do -that is the foundation for everything that I have done in my military career."

Sergeant Yarbrough is the very definition of the "whole-person concept." Aside from her first-sergeant duties, she is chairman of the Airman's Attic, a liaison for Team 56 and she's an advisor to the dorm council and First Four Airmen Group. She also helps to raise money and volunteers her time at charity events that help out families in need.

Even though her days are often hectic and never boring, she still finds time to better herself. Currently, Sergeant Yarbrough is working on a dual bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. Her list of decorations include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal, just to name a few.

Sergeant Yarbrough's resume speaks for itself, but talking to her, the first thing someone would notice is how humble she really is. She gets slightly embarrassed when her accomplishments are brought up and says, "I'm just doing my job."

"I have met some great first sergeants in my career and have been fascinated by what they can and will do for their Airmen," she says. "After exploring every position possible within security forces for my rank, I decided that I needed to step outside my career field and make a difference on a much bigger level. Being a first sergeant lets me do that all day, every day."

First-sergeant duty is typically a three year special assignment, but Sergeant Yarbrough has no plans to go back to her previous life.

"I love being a first sergeant," she says. "I can't say it's every going to be easy, but I can say that it's definitely rewarding."

For now, Sergeant Yarbrough is happy with the path life is taking her on. She's the single mother of a 15-year-old boy who is soon to be a junior at Captain Shreve High School; she has a rewarding job, a loving family and great friends. In the middle of all that, she still has big dreams for her future.

"I joke that I want to be the first female Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,but, I'm really not joking," she says. "That's one of my goals. That and to be named one of the Air Force's Outstanding Airmen of the Year."

Sergeant Yarbrough approaches life and every situation with heartfelt dedication, an open mind and a sense of humor. As a first sergeant, a senior non-commissioned Officer, a fellow Airman, a mother, a friend and a mentor, Sergeant Yarbrough has one piece of advice for everyone:

"Be the best you can be, that's all anyone can ever ask of you," she says.