Creating Opportunities: 174th Attack Wing holds inaugural Lean In Circle to inspire and develop Airmen

  • Published
  • By Mr. Alexander Rector
  • 174th Attack Wing

The 174th Attack Wing hosted its first Lean In circle at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base on Saturday May 4. The event consisted of a guided discussion between U.S. Air Force Maj. Elise Schwartz McMillan, assistant flight commander, 138th Attack Squadron, and Brig. Gen. Michele Kilgore.

Kilgore, who currently serves as the U.S. Northern Command’s deputy director of operations, is a former commander of the wing’s 174th Operations Group and the first woman to command the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing.

During the Lean In circle, Kilgore spoke on her experience transferring from the active-duty Air Force to the National Guard, her path to command of the 174th Operations Group, and the importance of finding a professional mentor.

“I really enjoy talking to airmen and this is kind of like coming home, said Kilgore, who was assigned to the 174th Attack Wing from 2004 to 2017. “It’s great to come back to the roots I had in the guard and to be able to be a mentor and an approachable leader. The person I wish I had when I was coming up in the system.”

The discussion, which was widely attended by senior leaders and junior Airmen alike from across the wing, was also streamed remotely via Microsoft Teams, allowing service members from other organizations to tune in and hear Kilgore’s words of wisdom.

“Everyone deep down has a reason why they serve,” said Kilgore. “When you have these human connections like teamwork and camaraderie, that is why people stay. They don’t stay for the promotions, and they don’t stay for the money. They stay for the people, and they stay for the mission.”

The concept of leaning in was popularized by former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg in her best-selling book, “Lean In.” The book highlights the fact that there’s a disproportionately small number of women in executive leadership positions compared their male counterparts.

The book proposes forming Lean In circles as a way for women to address this disparity. Lean In circles are small groups where women can come together for peer mentorship, collective learning, and support.

The inaugural event took months of planning and coordination and was made possible only through the dedication of Schwartz McMillan, who’s relationship with Lean In goes back almost a decade.

“I read the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg while deployed to Afghanistan in 2016 and really enjoyed it,” said Schwartz McMillan. “It really made an impact on my life.”

“I discovered circles and thought, hey, I want to get this off the ground,” said Schwartz McMillan, who began hosting Lean In circles while assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing. “I hosted a luncheon and gifted everybody a “Lean In” book with a personal inscription in it and then we brainstormed ideas for our first event.”

During her tenure with the 106th, Schwartz McMillan coordinated four Lean In circles culminating in a discussion with retired FBI Special Agent and former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.

“I had met her at the New York FBI Field Office in New York City where I'm assigned as a civilian FBI agent,” said Schwartz McMillan. “She was talking at a similar type of women's networking event I approached her and worked with her office to coordinate her coming to the 106th.”

At Schwartz McMillan’s first Lean In circle with the 106th, there were between 10-12 attendees, but through Schwartz McMillans hard work and dedication, that number ballooned to more than 100 at her last event before leaving the 106th for the 174th.

Now Schwartz McMillan hopes to replicate her success in Suffolk County right here in Syracuse.

“The intent is to create opportunities, period. I'm not looking to create opportunities for a specific rank or specific gender. I want to include everyone in the conversation,” said Schwartz McMillan. "It’s mission first, people always. We’ve got to take care of our people. I want them to gain an experience of a lifetime. Something they're always going to remember. Something that inspires them to continue to serve.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Elise Schwartz McMillan, assistant flight commander, 138th Attack Squadron, 174th Attack Wing, speaks to wing members during a Lean In Circle discussion group at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, May 4. Lean In Circles, popularized by former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg, allow women to come together for peer mentorship, collective learning, and support. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Alexander Rector)