JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
As a child, her life was less than ideal.
Drugs and alcohol everywhere reinforced every negative thing she had come to know and believe. Sudden, recurring changes resulted in changing schools – nine in a dozen years – and left no time to make friends, if that were even possible anyway.
Statements directed at her more often than not started with "you'll never be," and mostly she believed it. Somehow she broke away, enlisting in the Air Force. Just when she thought things were looking up, she received an Article 15 – and the ink was barely dry on her enlistment contract.
She was at a crossroad. She could respond to past negative assertions, as she had always done, and view this as the result of a self-fulfilling prophesy, but she decided to try something different. She took the opportunity to reset her life, and today she’s one of very few Reserve Military Training Instructors hand-selected to work for the active duty 737th Training Group standardization and evaluation flight at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Master Sgt. Nickole Rhodes shares her story to offer encouragement to Airmen who might be struggling to overcome hardships and adversity – past or present.
Rhodes, who enlisted in 2005, served as a security forces member for 10 years until being accepted four years ago for a special duty assignment as a military training instructor with the 433rd Training Squadron – the only Reserve MTI unit in the Air Force. Reserve MTIs partner with active duty MTIs to produce more than 40,000 new air and space warriors annually.
“Every day I was able to see the transformation of citizens into warrior Airmen. It’s one of the most rewarding blessings I have received,” Rhodes said. “When I got into trouble it was because I had retained negative habits from my life prior to the Air Force. I was used to disappointment, self-imposed and external, but this time was different. My commander’s punishment didn’t include loss of rank. Rather, after a severe talking to and some extra duty, she challenged me to be better, do better. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My desire to not let her down motivated me to accept the challenge and 'get my head into the game'.”
As a Reserve MTI, Rhodes has managed 44 commander’s programs, and spearheaded the training of 45 evaluators for two separate work centers. Additionally, she served as an interim in-house recruiter facilitating recruitment of 59 candidates for Reserve MTI duty.
“Master Sgt. Rhodes has done and accomplished more than most senior noncommissioned officers will. Having served a complete tour as a Reserve Military Training Instructor, she has joined a very small group of Airmen,” said Rhodes’ supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Jason Wagner, 433rd Training Squadron operations superintendent.
Rhodes said the second chance from caring leadership made all the difference.
“After learning my lesson, I was determined to not let this setback stop me from advancing in my career.” Rhodes said. “The guidance and support offered by my leadership and fellow Airmen gave me the strength to break old habits. Being in stan/eval gave me the opportunity to ensure our unit was getting the most accurate, up-to-date information and delivering it in a way that fostered a relationship of confidence and trust between our instructors.”
As a 737th Training Group stan/eval flight member, she was responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of more than 800 permanent party personnel. Rhodes has supported more than 1,200 group-wide instructor compliance operations inspections, leading to the highest pass rate in 18 months. She holds three associate’s degrees, a professional management certification, and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
“Her commitment clearly originates from a selfless heart of service but has certainly come at a cost," Wagner said. "Her family has shouldered her burden with her in terms of a permanent change of station, long hours, temporary duty assignments and her husband’s recent deployment. These are monumental challenges that test any Airman. Rhodes is not a super-human, she struggles like anyone else. What she has displayed is a superior ability to robustly embrace challenge and change. I am sure she’ll be just as impactful in her new job for the 737th TRSS discharge processing section.”
The Air Force Reserve provided her the stability and consistency that her life lacked, and she hopes to pay it forward by imbuing the lessons she’s learned about faith, perseverance and integrity into trainees and colleagues. She reveals that serving has also given her another tangible benefit – making her two kids proud and giving them someone to look up to.
“Pursuing instructor duty is one of the best decisions I ever made. Serving in BMT has immeasurably developed me as a leader and as a mother. I let my kids know everyone falls sometime but what’s important is to get back up and keep trying. I also stress to them not to let other people’s ideas and notions hold them back from achieving greatness," Rhodes said. “I am grateful for every opportunity the Air Force Reserve has ever provided. I wanted a special way to give back, and serving as an MTI allows me -- as a leader of men and women -- to help shape the culture of the Air Force.”