Don’t mess with this mama bear

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — 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, 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 on Peterson Air Force Base.

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

Opportunities arose in Roberts’ career to progress both herself and her leadership and she took full advantage of them. She learned from her enlisted experience and her fellow brothers and sisters in arms and stored that knowledge knowing it would be beneficial to have as an officer, Roberts said.

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 between the two services.

“I did what is known as an interservice transfer,” Roberts 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,” Roberts 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.

“She really makes it a point to let you know she is there for you,” said 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, Roberts led the 21st SFS to multiple awards in the Air Force Space Command medium-sized SFS category. Although she accepts the award, she is quick to give credit to her Airmen and her senior NCOs for leading the way. She said the success of the squadron is directly due to how well she and her team have worked together.

With her teams and her career field being predominantly male, Roberts’ leadership style has never succumbed to any negative criticism because of her gender.

“I have been in a male-dominated career field for so long that I overlook a lot of things in that regarding my gender,” Roberts 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.” 

Leaving nothing to excuses, Roberts 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,” she 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.”

Editors note: This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.