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In disbelief she made Chief: Heather Celano’s story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Abbey Rieves
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

A tall woman with brown hair races to her next table.

Quickly, she takes the table’s order.

Ding. A bell rings, indicating another table’s food is ready to be delivered. She runs over and grabs the serving tray.

Working more than 70 hours per week, 24-year-old Heather Celano did not have time for much of anything, especially not for higher education.

In 2004, the Missouri native enlisted as an all source analyst, hoping the Air Force would free her time so she could focus on her education.

But transitioning from managing a family owned restaurant to an Airman Basic, Celano struggled with her filter and encountered a difficult adjustment into military life.

With eyes locked on leaving the military, the self acclaimed, ‘civilian-select,’ suddenly remembered her reason why, and re-enlisted for four more years. 

After finding her focus and years of guiding and mentoring, Celano came back to Goodfellow as a front line instructor in 2009. 

Throughout her 18.5 years in service, eight of which as a single parent, Celano combatted every bit of opposition in her path to achieve the highest enlisted rank, Chief Master Sgt., on Dec 6.

“I have not always agreed with every Air Force decision,” Lt. Col. Daniel Blackledge, 313th TRS commander. “But this is a decision the Air Force got absolutely right.”

Her purpose now is not only giving back, mentoring, and developing the 83 staff members and hundreds of Airmen across 28 unique intelligence training classes, but helping anyone she comes in contact with.

“I think what makes her stand out is her ability to work with everyone on their level,” said Blackledge. “Her superpower is guiding, developing, and mentoring everyone, on an individual basis, from E-1 to O-6’s.”

She strives to set the next generation of Airmen up for success more than she had been, and she chose to see opportunity within her challenges on her journey.

“I’ve had a lot of leaders and mentors pour into me and push me to be better,” Celano recalled. “They saw more in me than I saw in myself. One of the biggest lessons I learned was surrounding myself with smart people, so I could learn and grow from them.”

She repeatedly thanked her leadership for constantly building her when she needed developing and letting her take a knee when emotional and mental tune-ups were necessary.

“It is realizing you do not have to be strong all the time,” said Celano, her hands gesturing as she spoke. “That’s why we do this as a team. No one would walk around with a broken arm. Your mental health is no different.”

Through personal resilience and getting help when she was close to burnout, Celano established her capabilities early in her career.

“Chief Celano has such tenacity and ability to move forward no matter what,” said Blackledge. “I have never seen the passion that she has in anyone else. She’s passionate about everything”

Her efforts came to light when she was STEP promoted to Technical Sgt. for her meritorious performance, in December 2013.

Even now, her momentum has not slowed. She dual-hats as the senior enlisted leader and an instructor on the podium at the 313th TRS. 

“Chief Celano has two full time jobs,” said Blackledge. “And she does them both with vigor, passion and a relentlessness I have never seen before.”

Further demonstrating her ability to be a rockstar, Celano created time to make herself better.

Fulfilling her original reason why she joined, Chief Celano has earned two Community College of the Air Force associate degrees, a dual depth bachelor's degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice, and even achieved her master’s degree in Leadership this past October. 

After completing all that education, Celano joked she finally has time to get back into fishing, kayaking, and making soap.

After accomplishing everything Celano set out to do, she continues to put her uniform on everyday, motivated by her team at the 313th TRS and the Air Force team at large.

 “I am nowhere near being done,” she said energetically and with a large smile. “I have so much more to give.”