Women’s History Month: Gunfighter first sergeant exemplifies leader

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class JaNae Capuno
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Her office isn’t as fancy as one would think. No glimmering plaques, towering coin displays or motivational photos as you would expect a first sergeant office to have. But she does have an engraved mug. It reads:

 REMEMBER TO HYDRATE! PT pacer extraordinaire!

Barriere the blessing “saved” CH Coop!

Shirt, thank you for all you do! 

She earned this by going “above and beyond” for a fellow Airman.

Here’s how it all went down...

Maj. Christopher Cooper, 366th Fighter Wing Chaplain, was confident starting his run portion of the Air Force Physical Fitness Test. Maxing out points in pushups, situps and waist measurement, The chaplain began his run by whipping out his phone and blaring a Johnny Cash song for everyone around him to hear. The run seemed like it was going to be like a simple walk in the park.

As he passed his 16th lap, Cooper began to slow down, feeling the effects of burn out while the time was ticking. Everyone around him is cheering him on, telling him to keep going and to finish strong, but with no one running with him.

“When I became dehydrated and had already walked one lap, I thought, ‘wow, after 19 years of scoring excellent on my PT test, I’m going to do good to just pass and I might even fail,’” Cooper said.

That’s when Master Sgt. Yillian Barriere, the first sergeant for the 366th Fighter Wing A-Staff, special staff, 366th Comptroller Squadron and 366th Contracting Squadron, swooped in to help.

Immediately, she dropped her phone off at the bench and sprinted toward Cooper, determined to guide him to victory.

“Out of nowhere, here comes the ‘Blessed Barriere’ as I now call her,” Cooper said. “She just appeared out of nowhere like an angel!”

Together, Barriere and Cooper began racing against time filled with motivation to pass the test as a team, surrounded by a roaring crowd of Airmen rooting in their favor.

“I’m not even sure why she was there, but next thing I knew she was beside me saying, ‘Come on Chaplain, we got this. Just 3 more laps, we’re going to pass this PT test!,’” Cooper explained.

He crossed the finish line, and the first question Barriere asked the physical training leader was, “Did he make his time?”

“I was happy for him that he got what he wanted,” Barriere said. “I didn’t know what his score was, but I didn’t want him to fail. I’m not gonna just stand there and watch him fail at something that is going to impact his career.”

Coop passed his PT test with flying colors. Earning 50 points on the run, Cooper made an ‘excellent’ with 90 percent on the dot.

First sergeants are charged with maintaining welfare among Airmen. “Shirts” work hard to ensure the people they lead are taken care of.

When something goes wrong, a first sergeant is usually one of the immediate people who respond.

Barriere was ready to drop everything she was doing to help someone in need.

She’s a 5-foot-1 Panamanian female who enjoys weightlifting and bodybuilding. Despite this, Barriere dubs herself “a regular girl from around the way.” She is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things to put her Airmen first, no matter what rank they are.

“When people come into my office for PT struggles, I always tell them, ‘the same struggles you have, I have too,’” Barriere said. “I need to make sure that I’m on top of it.”

Starting out in the Air Force at the age of 17, Barriere never expected to be as successful as she is today.

“As an airman basic, I did not see myself as a first sergeant,” Barriere said.

Barriere described how her first sergeant seemed unapproachable when she was a young Airman.

“When I was working next to his office, all I could hear was him yelling at people all the time,” Barriere said. “I would think to myself ‘I never want to go in there’ because I was scared.”

As her career progressed, Barriere realized that first sergeants are there to lead Airmen to success, and discipline is one of the many tools first sergeants have to use to help their Airmen.

When Barriere earned her diamond, she vowed to always take care of her people and to be involved with Airmen and their families.

“If you’re in your office all the time, you’re not doing your job,” Barriere said. “You’re supposed to be out and about seeing people. I get out of my desk and go see the individual I need to talk to, I’m a bit old-school like that.”

Whether it be an Airman struggling with their PT test, a family needing groceries from the Operation Warmheart locker to make ends meet, or a spouse going through a traumatic event, Barriere strives to assist and to be there for whoever needs her.

“I guess I just pride myself by trying to make the best out of every day,” Barriere said. “Some days are stressful, and some days are not. But, you have to have a positive outlook at the end of each day. You can’t guarantee that everything is going to be rainbows and unicorns, because it won’t be.”

The day of Cooper’s PT test was an example of Barriere making her day the best it could be.

“As a Chaplain, we give to everyone else all the time, that’s our calling and role before God and as Air Force chaplains,” Cooper said. “When someone like Barriere ‘The Blessing’ gave back to me, it meant more than I can put into human words.”

Cooper expressed his absolute gratitude for Barriere’s assistance.

“God bless you shirt, and know you make a difference,” Cooper said. “You make the Air Force a better place to work, serve, and belong! You reiterated that day on the track that I was not alone, and I thank you for that.”

Women like Barriere are the reason why a path has been paved for future female Airmen to find success. Leading from the front, Barriere personifies Women’s History Month by being anything but a regular girl from around the way.

Simply put, people see her as not ordinary, but extraordinary.