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Veteran retires from Air National Guard


 

SMSgt Shirley Mitchell (Bratcher)

By Judy Reed

When Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt) Shirley Mitchell (Bratcher) thought about what she wanted to do after graduating from high school, she said she wanted to drive a semi truck like her father, and be a police officer, and be in the military. But how would she ever do all that? 

SMSgt Shirley Mitchell (Bratcher) and her brother, TSgt Brian Sherman, at the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek.

“It turns out, I did all three in my first job joining the military. I joined Security Forces and became a security policeman and learned to drive a big truck in a convoy. That’s all three into one!” said Shirley.

Shirley graduated from Cedar Springs High School in 1983, and worked for eight years until she enlisted in the Michigan Air National Guard in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1991. She said members of her family inspired her to join—namely, her dad, who enlisted from 1960-1964, and her uncle, who served 32 years in the U.S. Air Force. When she was young, her family went to visit him and other family in Delaware. “He took me to an Air Show at Dover AFB,” she recalled. “It happened to be the Navy Blue Angels performing at that show. I was inspired by the air show and just the mere fact of being on a huge base. I just knew then I wanted to be a part of Air Force. It just felt right for me.”

 Her initial enlistment was a part time job in the Michigan Guard. Her first assignment was a Security Specialist in the 110 Security Forces Squadron. She became active guard reservist in April 1994 and was on an active duty assignment at Battle Creek. That remained her base throughout her 26-year career. 

“It’s a unique position to obtain one at an Air National Guard Base,” explained Shirley. “There are only so many per state and you have to compete (interview) for the position (job) you want. They are active duty positions that mean you serve both the state and federal government. With this type of position, you are able to complete 20 satisfactory years of service and earn the same benefits as other active duty personnel who serve the federal government only.”

The squadrons and positions she served in while stationed at Battle Creek are in the 110 Security Forces Squadron, as a Security Specialist; the 110 Fighter Wing as a Financial Comptroller and Superintendent; the 110 Medical Group as a Public Health Specialist; and 217 Operations Group as the Health Services Specialist Superintendent in the Air Components Operations Group, a Special Security Officer (SSO) in the 217 Air Intelligence Squadron, and then a Security Specialist/Anti -Terrorism Officer in the Air Components Operations Group.  At retirement, her final duty position was in the 110 Security Forces Squadron as a Security Specialist. 

While Shirley was never deployed to the desert, she did travel around the world and to other states. “I wanted to go [to the desert] but was fulltime and too valuable back at home station to be gone,” she explained. “At least, that’s what they told me.” She did get to go on temporary duty to places such as Germany; South Korea; Alaska; Hawaii; and many other continental United State states. “I joined the Air Force to travel, and I sure did!”

Shirley received several medals, ribbons and awards over the years, including the Meritorius Service Medal; Air Force Commendation medal; Air Force Achievement medal; Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor; National Defense Service medal; Global War on Terrorism Medal; Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and more.

Shirley said that the most important thing she learned while serving is that your attitude dictates everything. “It’s what you make of it. Meaning, if you dislike something or disliked being in the service, change your attitude and find the positive aspect so that you do like it. When I enlisted, I said, well, this could be the best six years of my life, or the worst. I would not know either unless I enlisted! Turns out, I loved being in the military (Air National Guard) and it was the best thing I ever did. Sure, there were some stressful times, but overall, it was the greatest thing I ever did. No regrets at all. I kept re-enlisting as I did spend 26 years and 5 months total time in service. I made many new lifetime friends and we will forever be bonded.” 

The Post asked Shirley if she had noticed any difference over time in the way women are treated in the military. “Yes, women are now allowed in some combat type positions and more robust traditional type male roles. The roles are changing right now and women are proving themselves that they can participate in a particular career field just like the men. Due to heightened awareness and mandatory trainings, women are now more than ever (and men too) encouraged to report sexual harassment or assaults. Reports are taken seriously and investigations are conducted. When I came in, women were not reporting issues as a fear of retribution. It has come a long way and getting much better to not fear this. Men will always support and assist women in some ways (let’s say with heavy lifting) as it is a team environment,” she explained.   

Shirley also had a few tips for other women (or even men) who might want to join. “If you are considering the military, think about what you may hope gain and leave with. As in, if you would like technological knowledge and plan to use it after you get out or while still serving (as a traditional guardsmen in the Air National Guard) in the civilian work force, join the Air National Guard or regular active duty Air Force. The Air National Guard is the Air Force, and most are part time members (one weekend a month traditionally).

“There are so many great opportunities and job skills that you can obtain in the Air National Guard and apply them on the outside. There are free college benefits and so many more offerings. Not to mention a lot of new friends and travel opportunities.”

While serving, Shirley earned four different Air Force Associate Degrees, and is now working on a Bachelor’s degree in Security Management with a concentration in Government Security. She plans to pursue a job with the Department of Defense as a Security Specialist.

Shirley may have retired from military service, but there is still another member of her family serving to carry on the legacy. Her brother, Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Brian Sherman is serving at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base at the 110 Civil Engineering Squadron as a Firefighter. He currently has 13 years in service. He is a 2000 graduate of Cedar Springs High School.

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