A Day in Command: Staff Sgt. Rayanna Willard

  • Published
  • By Jonathan Cotto
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

Originally from Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, Staff Sgt. Rayanna Willard stepped into the boots of command chief for a day at the 37th Training Wing, Feb. 2. Despite the serene setting of her hometown, Willard was laughingly quick to clarify that it bears no resemblance to the dramatic backdrop of the Netflix series “Ozark”.

“It’s a small country town but not as exaggerated as it is on the show,” Willard said.

The sergeant shares her journey to the Air Force was shaped by family influence and a desire for a meaningful career path. After graduating from high school in 2013, Willard initially pursued a higher education at Missouri State University. However, the burden of college expenses led her to seek advice from her grandfather, a former Navy Sailor, and her uncle, who served in the Air Force. Their guidance solidified her decision to enlist.

“I didn’t want to pay for school anymore, so I started looking into other options,” Willard said. “So, I went into a recruiters office.”

Eight and a half years into her Air Force career, Willard reflects on how quickly time has passed. She initially trained as a Security Forces member then later transitioned roles. She currently serves as the unit training manager at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center within the 637th Training Group and the 637th International Support Squadron.

Willard’s day as command chief provided her with a look into the intricacies of leadership at the 37th TRW. Willard says she previously had the opportunity of meeting Chief Master Sgt. Carlos Damian but admits to underestimating the breadth and intensity of his responsibilities. She says witnessing his dedication and tireless commitment to his team has certainly left a lasting impression.

The sergeant shared she was particularly drawn to the chief’s leadership style, characterized by the support for his personnel and a relentless pursuit of personal and professional growth. Willard acknowledged the demanding nature of the position, describing it as “very busy”, yet she was inspired by the chief’s steadfast advocacy for his people.

“I really liked how he wants to be better; he wants to know what he can improve,” Willard said. “I really think that’s an important part of being an Airman, wanting to grow and be better.”

Willard says her military journey has been like that of a roller coaster ride, she adds “it’s been exciting.” The sergeant states she remains resolute in her aspirations, aiming to ascend to the ranks of a first shirt or undershirt while also pursuing her educational goals. Reflecting on her enlistment at the age of 20, she offers sage advice to her younger self: to embrace authenticity, persevere through challenges, and trust that everything will eventually fall into place.

“Don’t stress, it’s all going to be okay, just be yourself and do what you need to do, and it will all work out,” Willard said.

As Staff Sgt. Rayanna Willard continues to chart her course within the Air Force, her brief stint as command chief serves as a testament to her dedication, adaptability, and commitment to service.