111th Rising Six Council jumpstarts junior enlisted

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Wilfredo Acosta
  • Pennsylvania Air National Guard

What if I told you there’s an organization on base offering professional development, mentorship, camaraderie and leadership training for more than 600 troops … And, it’s spent most of the year headed by two staff sergeants?

For some stationed at Biddle Air National Guard base in 2021, it’s easy to believe because we’ve witnessed the 111th Attack Wing’s Rising Six Council in action, successfully hosting a state-wide Airman Development Program, mapping out a new base running route, and hosting morale events like the Annual Awards Banquet and the recent Friendsgiving Frenzy Bonfire Extravaganza.

Until recently, some members of the Wing still didn’t understand the Rising Six was much more than a party-planning committee responsible for the solid snack bar located at Wing Headquarters in Building 203. Staff Sgt. Shawna Belusko, 111th ATKW Rising Six Vice President, was part of the junior-enlisted team that set out to change that image in 2021.

The Mission

“The Rising Six’s mission is to be a voice for all E1-E6 members of the Wing,” said Belusko, a Hazleton, Pennsylvania native currently serving as a 111th ATKW Production Recruiter. “We represent our members by being a direct link to our Wing leadership. The council helps implement the changes that our members would like to see and works on building wingman relationships through morale events. We also offer opportunities for Airman to build networking relationships and develop leadership skills.”

The Rising Six is important because it represents the largest population of our Wing, the junior-enlisted members, and it focuses on their development and growth so they can go on to become our senior-enlisted leaders, said Belusko.

Rising Six Council President Tech. Sgt. Marie Haydak, who was elected to her position as a staff sergeant and recently promoted to her current rank this past summer, wants people to know why they should support the council.

“The council serves to enhance and encourage our brothers & sisters in arms to maintain unit cohesion through community outreach, leadership opportunities and provides a source of self-accomplishment with professional development projects,” said Haydak, who helped lead the council while working full-time as a 111th ATKW Contract Specialist. “It also forces members to learn time management skills by balancing this extracurricular work through the council and normal [Air Force Specialty Code] AFSC duties.”

Leadership Development

The Rising Six council is more than a voice for the junior enlisted and a venue to sharpen their management skills. It’s a way for the Wing to develop leaders.

“The council was also responsible for organizing, planning, and hosting the 2021 Airman Development Program, or ADP,” said Belusko. “The ADP program was a three-day professional military education event designed to aid in the development of Airmen across all three wings in Pennsylvania.”

During this year’s ADP from June 9-11, enlisted members below the rank of senior airman from the 193rd Special Operations Wing stationed at Harrisburg International Airport, Middletown, Pennsylvania, and the 171st Air Refueling Wing located at Pittsburgh International Airport in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, joined the 111th ATKW at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Pennsylvania, to work on personal and professional development as well as their Airmanship, said Belusko.

This year attendees participated in team building exercises, which included an outdoor obstacle course. They also received periods of military instruction from speakers Air National Guard senior leaders such as Brig. Gen. Michael Regan, Deputy Adjutant General-Air for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Command Chief Master Sgt. Paul Frisco, State Command Chief-Air for the Pennsylvania National Guard; and Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major Jon. B. Worley, Senior Enlisted Leader for Pennsylvania's adjutant general.

When planning ADP, Rising Six Council knew part of preparing young airmen for their role as future leaders was making sure they took time to learn about their heritage from valued sources that included Dr. Eugene J. Richardson Jr., a World War II pilot and Tuskegee Airmen Class 45A alumnus, and a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial.

Belusko said the goal of hearing speakers like Dr. Richardson and the visiting the flight 93 memorial was to remind junior enlisted to honor their heritage as Airmen.

For attendees like Senior Airman Corey Walters, a prior service Marine who recently joined the 112th Cyber Operations Squadron, ADP was an invaluable experience.

“The Airman Development Program was valuable on many levels,” said Walters. “As a junior-enlisted Airman, ADP afforded us the opportunity to interface with the senior leaders who supported the program, it helped us foster personal relationships outside our unit, and it allowed us to work with our peers across the state. It was nice to see everyone working toward a closer-knit Pennsylvania Air National Guard.”

Haydak and Belusko are the first to admit the ADP program was a team effort. In fact, with Belusko at recruiting school during the event, the Rising Six Council had to rely on the strength of its young noncommissioned officers to plan and execute a successful event.

“Every detail from the planning, scheduling, and logistics was handled by the young NCOs working with the Rising Six Council,” said 111th ATKW Command Chief Robert Ferguson. “I was proud of the job they did hosting the event. It was a testament to what our young enlisted corps is capable of accomplishing when given the opportunity to lead.”

Impact and Result

So, far the Rising Six and the ADP program has paid tangible dividends for the Wing putting young Airman on the right track, literally.

In 2021, Senior Airman Julian Weldon, an 103rd Operations Support Squadron Intelligence Analyst, who also happens to be a Rising Six member and ADP attendee, noticed there was no alternative to the painted PT track on the flight line. So, he created an on base running route for members to use to keep up with their physical fitness.

“Over the summer once COVID-19 restrictions were easing and Physical Training tests were getting planned, I often overheard the desire for there to be something more to run on besides the painted “track” that we have right now,” said Weldon, a former competitive runner. “I wanted to bring something to the base that everyone could enjoy and use. Knowing running isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do, sometimes a change of scenery as you go makes all the difference.”

For Weldon, it was about making running more enjoyable for the base.

“Being a part of one giant organization here it’s nice to hear a beep or get a wave of support from friends and colleges around the base,” said Weldon. “We are a small community here and I just want to make the most of what we have.”

So, how did a newly-promoted senior airman decide to take on such a project? For a self-starter like Weldon, projects like this are worth taking on, but it never hurts to get a little help from your friends. In this case, it was the E-4 family represented in the Rising Six, who helped point him in the right direction.

“For me, the most difficult part was just knowing who to go to. I’m still relatively new and don’t know who holds the keys to what,” said Weldon. “As a junior enlisted, sometimes it felt awkward to ask questions, but everyone that assisted me along the way always gave positive feedback. Every time I would mention the end goal, I’d get a 'finally' response and that made me want to get the job done even more.”

Weldon said his biggest resistance to getting the running route painted came from mother nature.

“It was a battle with the wind at times, but nothing terrible,” said Weldon. “Eight or so cans of spray-paint later, I was happy with the result.”

Weldon and his fellow junior-enlisted Airman have not slowed down since attending the ADP this summer. In addition to being recently promoted to his current rank, Weldon is currently serving as 111th ATKW Diversity and Inclusion Working Group Vice President. He shares a leadership role with fellow Senior Airman Akini Cyrus of the 103rd Attack Squadron, who currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group President.

Together, Weldon and Cyrus were instrumental in producing the first-ever round-table discussion for the LGBTQ+ community on base. To do so, they relied on a panel of speakers that consisted of several junior-enlisted personnel and Rising Six Acting Secretary, Senior Airman Dylan Castro. Though the group was prominently supported by senior leadership such as 111th ATKW Commander Col. Deane Thomey, 111th ATKW Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Ferguson, and Mission Support Group Commander Col. Christine Munch, the video was an example the capability of the junior-enlisted corps .

A Bright Future

Though the calendar year is winding down, the Rising Six Council’s work is far from done. In fact, the council is already preparing for a return to regularly scheduled events in 2022, which include its elections.

“We are currently preparing for new council board elections, the Annual Awards Banquet, Speed Mentoring, the 2022 Pennsylvania Airman Development Program (ADP), community involvement, and base improvement efforts,” said Haydak, who encourages more junior-enlisted personnel to actively participate in the Rising Six Council. “This involvement with the council can take you as an attendee to a board member. Within a year, any Airman grade E-6 and below could expect to be sitting with the Command Chief and Wing Commander discussing the interests and trend of over 600 members!”