Joint Base Charleston


One Airman leaves mark as Team Charleston's first African-American female command chief

By Senior Airman Anthony J. Hyatt | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | February 29, 2012

Joint Base Charleston, S.C. -- Throughout the years, Joint Base Charleston, formerly known as Charleston Air Force Base, has had many different command chiefs. But one command chief greatly differed from the rest. Not only was this chief the first and only female to lead Team Charleston, but she was also Charleston's first African-American female command chief.

In 2007, after serving as the superintendent of the 437th Mission Support Squadron and 437th Mission Support Group, Chief Master Sgt. Bernise Belcer was given the opportunity to serve as the 437th Airlift Wing command chief at CAFB.

"I first came to Charleston to be the Military Personnel Flight superintendent, but with my experience and my background they asked me to be the group superintendent and later to be the command chief," she said. "I was fortunate the command chief at the time was retiring."

"I really loved being the command chief, it was such a rewarding job," said the chief. "It didn't even feel like work because it was all fun for me."

As the 437th AW command chief, Belcer acted as the functional manager for all the first sergeants at CAFB, reviewed every senior non-commissioned officer evaluation performance report, spoke at newcomer orientations and the First Term Airmen Center, updated the commander about any issues concerning the enlisted force and most importantly, got out to see the Airmen.

"I made sure I visited units all the time to see the younger Airmen," said Belcer. "Even the night shifts, the commander and I would make time to get out and talk to them."

Belcer entered the United States Air Force in 1982 and has held a variety of positions in the personnel career field at the unit, wing, base and headquarters levels.

Currently, she works as the Chief of Enlisted Promotions and Evaluations and Fitness Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, Directorate of Force Management Policy at the Air Staff/Pentagon in Washington, D.C. She has held this position since October 2010.

"As the Chief of Enlisted Promotions and Evaluation and Fitness Policy, I interpret, shape and implement enlisted promotions, evaluation and fitness policy for the entire Air Force," said Belcer.

Belcer didn't join the Air Force right after graduating high school; in fact it wasn't even on her mind.

She first went to college and graduated from the University of South Carolina, Columbia in 1982. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Educational Psychology.

After her graduation, Belcer found herself in a situation.

"I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I enjoyed what I majored in, but just wasn't sure what to do," she said. "I did my student teaching, but that was a little taxing for me, so I thought 'there are a lot of things I can do with my major, so I applied for some jobs at various places.'"

Belcer didn't hear from any of the companies she applied to. So one day, she was walking downtown and walked by the military recruiters.

"All the recruiters, Army, Navy, Marines, jumped up from their desks and were saying 'come on in, come on in!' But the Air Force recruiter didn't even get up from his desk to talk to me," she laughed.

She just kept walking right by the recruiters, but on her way back she passed them again and the Air Force recruiter approached her.

"I talked to the Air Force recruiter, I liked what he had to say and next thing you know, I was signing my preliminary paperwork," said Belcer. "It was just one of those decisions that was made at a time when I needed something different."

The Marion, S.C. native's career didn't stray too far from her hometown. She received orders June 1983 to Shaw AFB, Sumter, S.C. Her first duty station was actually Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, but due to a humanitarian issue, she was able to get stationed near her mother.

She spent three years at Shaw AFB holding positions as a separations clerk, manning control specialist and separations and retirement's assistant non-commissioned officer in charge.

In February 1986, Belcer then received orders to her first overseas assignment with the 1141st U.S. Air Force Special Activity Squadron in Geilenkirchen Air Base, West Germany.

"I loved Germany! After my assignment there, I tried hard to get stationed back there. It's just wonderful," she said. "We were stationed at a small GSU (geographically separated unit), so we were a close-knit group at work. I also got to travel so much. I went to Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and all over Europe. I felt I got a good feel of the European culture."

Three years later, Belcer took orders to Langley AFB, Va., where she had her first opportunity to work at the Major Command level.

"I worked assignments (at Langley) matching position needs with the needs of the MAJCOM," she explained. "It was nice to see how the assignment process worked at that level."

Belcer then went on to serve a couple of years at Tinker AFB, Okla., more than seven years at Robins AFB, Warner Robins, Ga., Macdill AFB, Fla. and Osan AFB Korea, before becoming the command chief at Charleston.

She followed up Charleston by filling the position of command chief of the 19th Air Force at Randolph AFB, Texas in October 2008.

"This was an amazing experience for me. I was the key advisor to the commander on all enlisted matters, as well as responsible for oversight for all command chiefs of 10 wings and two groups. I traveled to all the bases that fell under the 19th AF and I got to interact with a lot of Airmen from all those different bases," she said.

At the time, the 19th AF consisted of more than 17,000 active duty members, 6,300 civilian and 1,720 trainer, fighter mobility and special operations aircraft.

Belcer had no problem tackling any of these jobs because of the support system that surrounded her.

"My husband Derrick motivates me so much. There's nothing I can't do once I talk to him about it. Whenever I have any doubt at all, he's there to remind of all the things I have accomplished and he would say 'if you can do that ... you can do anything.'" she said.

Another factor that helped Belcer was her mentor, Chief Master Sgt. Doris Brewster. Brewster was Belcer's mentor from buck sergeant up to senior master sergeant.

"Chief Brewster helped shape and mold my career. She was the one who really told me to take care of my education and my professional military education and I would be ready for any opportunities that came along," Belcer said.

"One encouragement I always have for Airmen is to set goals and have a mentor," she added. "Mentors can point you in the right direction."

After 30 years of service in the Air Force, Belcer plans to retire in August 2012. She and her husband will be retiring in Columbia, S.C.

"Initially, I'm taking some time off and taking a break," she said. "But, when I'm ready I would like to teach at a junior college."

"Sometimes I look back at some of the Airmen I've mentored when they were senior Airmen and now they are sewing on the rank of master sergeant in 11 1/2 years. Yet, they still come back to me for advice ... and this is what I hold dearest. When I made chief, it wasn't about me anymore," she said.

Even after her military career is finished, this core-personnelist looks to continue helping people.

"When I'm done with the military, the thing I will miss the most is the people. My interaction with the people is what made it fun - hands down," said Belcer.

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