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New command chief looks to continue 'strong legacy'

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- Charged to help lead an organization known for excellence, results and professionalism, newly selected 157th Air Refueling Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. James A. Lawrence is focused on the development and welfare of all airmen as the key to ensuring the wing maintains its positive momentum.

"There has been a strong legacy of effective and dedicated command chiefs that have served as great examples to emulate," said Lawrence, who has served 27 years in the 157th Air Refueling Wing. "The hallmark of this organization is visionary leaders who have a servant leadership focus that has positioned the state and wing for success in the future."

Lawrence, who served six years with the U.S. Air Force before joining the 157th, officially replaced outgoing Command Chief Master Sgt. Brenda Blonigen March 9, 2014. Lawrence thanked Blonigen for her mentorship during the transition period. He added that it was the leadership provided by Blonigen, State Command Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Collier, 157th Air Refueling Wing Commander Paul Hutchinson and others that have fostered a positive environment for airmen.

"The enlisted core is in great shape," said Lawrence. "(The 157th) has always done a great job of taking care of its' people. We have a very exciting future with the KC-46 and the active-duty associate. I am very excited for this opportunity."

The selection process was a daunting one according to Hutchinson, who said the wing had a talented pool of chiefs to choose from.

"Jamie had brought passion and enthusiasm to the process," said Hutchinson, "and ultimately the respect he has earned across the wing was the deciding factor in selecting him to become command chief. Chief Lawrence has been sought out for his advice and counsel by officer and enlisted alike."

Though proud of the recent wing successes and opportunities ahead, Lawrence said maintaining a level of excellence in training, inspections and mission accomplishment can bring additional stress.

"There is a lot of stress that comes with being a high performer," said Lawrence. "We need to pay special attention to our members and how they are dealing with that stress. We want to make sure our members are fit to fight."

Lawrence plans to focus on enlisted professional development in his role as command chief and continue to foster an environment of putting the team first. In his previous role as the 157th Force Support Squadron superintendent, he led a squadron with the most diverse mission sets in the total force ranging from recruiting and retention, commander force management, sustainment services, installation personnel readiness and force development. To build on his experiences, it will be vital to listen to the concerns of airmen, understand the dual mission of the wing and carry out the vision of the wing commander, according to Lawrence.

"For me it is going to be extremely important to understand what Colonel Hutchinson's vision is," he said. "To be an effective leader you first of all have to be an effective listener. You have to understand what your senior leadership is trying to accomplish."

A Wayland, Mass. native, Lawrence enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1980 before serving two years as military personnelist at Peterson AFB in Colorado and then four years at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska. Lawrence had a brief break in service before joining the New Hampshire Air National Guard in 1987.

"The goal was to get back to New England," said Lawrence of enlisting with the 157th. "The biggest driver for me was the esprit de corps. I missed the ability to serve with others."

Lawrence joined the 157th as a personnel affairs specialist before being promoted to chief of the 157th Mission Support Flight in 2001, which later became the 157th Force Support Squadron in 2009. He served in that role and was charged with the mentorship and professional development of his squadron's airmen until the change of authority.

Lawrence has received numerous decorations and awards at the state and federal level, including those from his deployment to Ali Air Base Iraq and several other deployments in support of OCONUS contingencies.

"A large part of my success as a leader is a direct result of the people I worked with for the past 13 years in the mission support flight and force support squadron," said Lawrence. "As (leaders), our success is purely based on those that we lead and surround ourselves with."

Lawrence became a chief master sergeant just months before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said the Wing's swift response to the attacks, along with responses to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Ice Storm of 2008 were some of his proudest moments as a member of the 157th.

"I think we are defined by how we react to a crisis," said Lawrence.

Lawrence was also proud of those he served with in Iraq. There, he led enlisted integration efforts between Air Force personnel and the first post-Saddam Iraqi flying squadron, significantly improving relations between the U.S. Airmen, U.S. Soldiers, and coalition partners.

Hutchinson spoke of the praise Lawrence received for his work in Iraq.

"He was described as Mr. Credibility, proven warrior and most importantly, all about the team," said Hutchinson. "Pretty flattering statements, all of which I know to be true."

Lawrence's desire to pursue the command chief position grew over his tenure as chief, but his desire to help others was the seed that sowed his Air Force career. When 18-year old Lawrence sat down with an Air Force recruiter in 1980, he told the recruiter he wanted to help others first and foremost. The desire to help others has remained for Lawrence.

"I consider myself a helper and more importantly I consider myself someone who loves this organization and its people," said Lawrence. "The opportunity to serve as the wing command chief is very humbling and most certainly an honor and a privilege.

Lawrence now hopes he will be able to help more people in this new role moving forward.
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