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Farewell: Command chief reflects on approach to love, finding purpose

Uniformed member greeting other military members  with hi-fives in building

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, walks out of the wing headquarters building for the last time at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Feb 15, 2019. Leifer, the current 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, is soon set to depart on her next journey where she will serve as the command chief for Twenty-Fifth Air Force headquartered at Joint Base San-Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eboni Prince)

Military member speaking to crowd

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, speaks during a tree dedication ceremony at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Feb. 12, 2019. A Japanese Cherry blossom tree was planted and dedicated to Leifer by members of the 480 ISRW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eboni Prince)

480th ISRW Commander visits the 548th ISRG.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Elaini Lawson, 13th Intelligence Squadron, gives a briefing to the commander and command chief of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, U.S. Air Force Col. Max Pearson and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, during their tour of the 548th ISR Group’s operations floor on Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 4, 2018. The 548th ISRG’s 13th and 9th Intelligence Squadrons are responsible for the production and exploitation of intelligence products. Pearson spent two days at Beale AFB visiting 548th ISRG Airmen and units for the first time as the 480th ISRW commander. (U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Danielle McBride)

480th ISRW Commander visits the 548th ISRG.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, rides a bicycle through the 548th ISR Group’s campus during her visit to Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 3, 2018. The bicycle belongs to the 548th ISRG and is part of the group’s bike-sharing program. The program was created to help Airmen who do not have vehicles travel around base. Leifer visited Beale AFB with U.S. Air Force Col. Max Pearson, who made his first visit to the base as the 480th ISRW commander. (U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Danielle McBride)

480th ISRW Commander visits the 548th ISRG.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, talks with 548th ISR Group Airmen during lunch at the group’s newly-remodeled courtyard on Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 3, 2018. The courtyard gives 548th ISRG Airmen a place to relax outdoors without the leaving the group’s secured compound. The 548th ISRG delivers real-time, high-confidence ISR products and services to joint and coalition forces, as well as other designated government agencies. (U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Danielle McBride)

480th ISRW Commander visits the 548th ISRG.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, speaks during a podcast with the 548th ISR Group superintendent, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ian Eishen, and U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Danielle McBride, 9th Intelligence Squadron film processor, at the innovation lab on Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 4, 2018. The podcast is one product the group is using to connect diverse, innovative members from industry, academia and government to develop capabilities, options and prototype opportunities for the U.S. Air Force. The overall goal of the innovation lab is to foster a culture of innovation at all levels of the U.S. Air Force.. (U.S. Air Force photo Airman 1st Class Danielle McBride)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

"During the first couple of weeks in the position, my face hurt from smiling so much!”

Current 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Summer Leifer, is soon set to depart on her next journey where she will serve as the command chief for Twenty-Fifth Air Force headquartered at Joint Base San-Antonio, Texas. However, before she does, she took time to reflect on her tenure with the 480th ISRW, recalled significant memories and shared advice as she moves on.

Upon walking into Leifer’s office, a room filled with images and memorabilia of a famous female super hero, to which she shares an uncanny likeness, and photographs of Airmen, it just feels warm and welcoming – like home.

From collector’s items and wall decor to inspirational quotes, chief’s workspace has been described by Airmen as brimming with love. There are subtle reminders from wall to wall of giving and sharing love.

“I love what I do, the team I work with and the people I have the opportunity to serve,” Leifer said. “The love the Airmen have for the mission, for each other, and for their families is what fuels me daily. I have seen and felt a lot of love while in this position and I am so appreciative of that.”

Reality check

"Appreciate every moment – highs and lows." 

Nevertheless, the command chief position comes with a lot – good and bad, ups and downs. Leifer recalled her first reality check in the form of unexpected, heartbreaking news about a fellow Airman who died.

“I came into this prepped for all the exciting, fun times, like fighting for my Airmen and advocating on their behalf, but I don’t believe I was prepared for when tragedy strikes within your organization,” Leifer said.

“I remember running through all the things I wanted to do in my head and eventually I sought direction from the wing chaplain. It was in that conversation that I realized I was very emotional about what had happened myself. It was in the process of attending the memorial and comforting the family, friends and co-workers that I realized it was okay to feel with your Airmen; they need to see you feeling with them.”  

Those moments, whether they brought smiles or tears, where Leifer had to dig deep in her command chief toolkit, are what shaped her time here.

“I feel like I was in a state of beginner’s mind,” Leifer said. “Although I have had lots of experiences, I was constantly learning. More specifically, I was learning from my Airmen. From the most junior to senior officers, I am always learning and then imparting that newfound knowledge to others.”

Stepping into your purpose

The things she learned came in handy for daily duties. As the senior enlisted member in the 480th ISRW, Leifer has the responsibility of advising the commander on all enlisted matters, including all issues affecting the ISR mission and operations, readiness, training, utilization, morale, technical and professional development, and quality of life of all members in the wing.

Working side by side with the commander, she was able to influence more than 6,000 Airmen across six groups and 23 squadrons at 15 operating locations worldwide. As a woman who believes in understanding one’s reason for being, this position allowed her to spread the message of knowing what you want out of life and what you are meant to do.

“My life’s purpose is to help other people find theirs,” said Leifer. “Knowing my purpose allows me to live by my values. What the world needs is for everyone to know their purpose and to step into it with a joyful heart. I believe aligning with your purpose makes everyone better.”

Col. Max Pearson, 480th ISRW commander, echoed the sentiments of Leifer’s self-sacrificing impact.

“Chief Leifer is a giant,” he said. “What I have learned from her wisdom and instincts is as much about life as it is about leadership. She has taught me that if you are sincerely motivated by selfless love and respect for your fellow Airman, you will not only be an amazing leader, but you will be so much happier and stronger because of it.”

Thanks and love

Though in mileage Leifer may be venturing far, organizationally, she is just a few rungs up on the ladder where she will essentially oversee the enlisted personnel within the wings that fall under the Twenty-Fifth Air Force – one of which happens to be the 480th ISRW.

“My desire is not necessarily to be remembered,” said Leifer. “I just hope that I leave something positive that is in the fabric of this wing – something that can’t be removed or forgotten. I am happy to have been part of the 480th ISRW, and I know it will continue to be the vanguard for initiatives and changes throughout the Air Force and serve as a model for the ISR enterprise.”

In true, predictable fashion, for all who know her, she concluded her time with the 480th ISRW gushing with appreciation and love.

“I thank everyone for the opportunity to both serve them and serve beside them; I thank them for what they do each day to continue to go above and beyond for the ISR mission and I love all of the Airmen of 480 ISRW.”