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Face of Defense: ‘Mama Bear’ Leads Security Forces With Unique Perspective

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Sept. 14, 2016 — Leadership is not an innate quality and there is no true recipe for success in regards to it. Leadership takes on many forms. Leadership has no preferred race, religion, ethnicity nor gender.

Blind to any categorization, Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole Roberts, the 21st Security Forces Squadron commander, accelerated through the enlisted and officer ranks while relying on a personable leadership style she still uses to effectively lead her 214 airmen here.

“I have been in the service for 26 years, with 11 being in the Army,” Roberts said. “I began as enlisted Army military police [officer] and then became a drill sergeant. Once I reached sergeant first class, I was selected for Officer Candidate School.”

Roberts took full advantage of the opportunities that arose during her career to progress and hone her leadership abilities. She said she learned from her enlisted experience and her fellow service members and stored that knowledge, knowing it would be beneficial to have as an officer.

From Soldier to Airman

Following a couple years of soaking up the experience as an officer, Roberts met her future husband. He was in the Air Force and she had heard great things of the Air Force, so she decided to transfer.

“I did what is known as an interservice transfer,” she said. “There was no break in service; one day I was in the Army and the next day I was in the Air Force. It took me awhile to handle the learning curve, but I have been lucky enough and blessed enough that in my entire experience in the Air Force. I have had some great leaders.”

Looking back, Roberts said transitioning to the Air Force was incredibly beneficial to her. She gained valuable mentorship and her leadership style, though already developed, became more refined.

“There is no magic to it,” she said. “Being enlisted for a very long time, I have learned to put my airmen first. I feel personally responsible for their welfare, safety and training. Their loved ones entrust with me their safety and I really take that to heart. My airmen are my heartbeat, so I believe that if you love and care for your people, the mission will take care of itself.”

Roberts said that on her bad days, she heads to the gates to stand with, talk and check on her airmen. She gets a revitalized sense of her duties and her responsibilities when she sees her defenders working long hours in the heat and cold with smiles on their faces.

‘Mama Bear’

“She really makes it a point to let you know she is there for you,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Anderson, a member of the 21st SFS. “She is one of the most supportive leaders I have experienced in my six years of being in the Air Force. I have been at the gate and she will come up to me and take my scanner from me and make sure I am doing well. She is a mother figure to all of us in the squadron and we never want to do anything to disappoint her.”

It is with that style that Roberts led the 21st SFS to multiple awards in the Air Force Space Command medium-sized SFS category. She is quick to give credit to her airmen and her senior noncommissioned officers for leading the way. Roberts said the success of the squadron is directly due to how well she and her team have worked together.

She has developed a distinct leadership style -- personable but fierce, she said.

“In all honesty, I think the only time my gender really defines me is that my troops call me ‘mama bear’ because my troops know that if anyone messes with them, I’ll break out the claws and have their back,” Roberts said.

She said she embraces herself and her gender but believes that when she dons her sage-green airman battle uniform, she is like any other airman and fights the same fight.

“As a female, I have seen other females who are pilots, cops and firemen -- I have seen some phenomenal females in action,” Roberts said. “I have always believed that if you work hard and take care of your people, you will get every opportunity that you are supposed to get and the Air Force has done a great job at leveling the playing field for everyone. Ever since I’ve been blue, I’ve been blessed.”
Distribution channels: Military