Daughter challenges mother in sprint to chief promotion

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- A daughter in Minnesota and her mother in Texas had a race recently. No track shoes or racing slicks were needed. No one handed out yellow jerseys, and the checkered flag waved blue.

That’s because Senior Master Sgt. Sonja Fisher and her mother, Senior Master Sgt. Susan Crosby, were racing to see who would be the first to get promoted to the Air Force’s highest enlisted rank.

The green flag waved on this race with a thought — but not a mutual one.

“The race wasn’t my idea. It was hers,” said Sergeant Crosby, senior recruiter for the 433rd Airlift Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. “I didn’t know until she made senior master sergeant that she had this as a goal.”

Sergeant Fisher said her goals, including promotion, have always kept her engine revved in the red.
“I’ve always wanted to go as high as I could,” said Sergeant Fisher, an air reserve technician assigned to the 934th Airlift Wing at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Air Reserve Station, Minn. “I just take little steps to achieve my goals.”

However, both mother and daughter have always been about achieving more in their lives than was expected.

For young Susan Crosby, her starting line for this race to an eighth stripe was drawn as a teen-ager fascinated with the military. She had “several” uncles who fought in World War II, including one killed in Sicily. She attended Minneapolis’ Edison High School, worked part time on a printing press and “didn’t have much time for high school.” So, something about the GI’s life drew her in.

“When I saw the military in parades, I got a very patriotic feeling,” she recalled. “But joining the military was not the thing to do in the 1960s. Women weren’t welcomed with open arms. So, I put it to the side and didn’t think too much about it.”
Her first lengthy pit stop in the race ended in a mall in 1981.

“There was this kind of void feeling,” Sergeant Crosby said. “I was on my way to a Weight Watchers meeting, and I walked past an Air National Guard display with handouts. I grabbed one.”

And, the sergeant said, she promptly forgot about it, one of many items consigned to the depths of her purse. She found the handout a few days later and realized there was a card to be mailed in. She sent it, received an information package from the Guard soon after and was hooked.

The ironically self-described “Susie Homemaker” screamed out of the pits and joined the Guard in April 1981.

“Why not?” she asked. “My kids were in school full time, and I felt like I didn’t have enough to challenge me.”

Meanwhile, as she was rounding the first turn in her career, Sergeant Crosby’s family headed in a different direction. She and her husband were divorced after she joined the Guard, leaving Sergeant Fisher and her sister, Sara, to live with their father in Minneapolis.

Sergeant Fisher inspects mobility gear in Minnesota. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Tudor)
However, by 1983, three things happened to change Sergeant Crosby’s life further. While mom stayed in Minnesota for two years before moving to Washington and then Oregon, she decided to switch from the Guard to the Air Force Reserve.

“The opportunities in the Reserve were better,” she said. “I also thought the opportunities to move around were better.”

Next, Sergeant Crosby switched jobs. Her time in a recruiting office in Oregon piqued her interest. So, she headed for recruiting school in San Antonio in August 1987.
Finally, at about the same time, Sergeant Fisher’s race began. She joined the active-duty force “with no intentions of staying in. Plus, my choices were limited on active duty,” she said.

Her first job took her to Malmstrom AFB, Mont. She found the Air Force Reserve team in 1991. Both mother and daughter were now on the same track — with some exceptions.
“She always had more rank then me,” Sergeant Fisher said, smiling. “However, in the back of my head, I kept saying that some day I was going to beat mom in rank.”
Mom was just surprised her daughter joined.

“I was shocked,” she said. “Sonja wasn’t real adventuresome as a teen-ager. I figured she’d go to college and have her nose in the books. I didn’t even know she was contemplating it.”

While the daughter stayed in Minnesota, mom found new opportunities in California and Utah, where she accepted her first job as a senior recruiter. Sergeant Crosby then moved to Texas, where she’s stayed since.

When the Air Force made both of them senior master sergeants, the race became an official event. Neck and neck, mother and daughter accelerated toward the finish line. Sergeant Crosby became eligible for regular promotion. Meanwhile, Sergeant Fisher submitted her early promotion package to her bosses.

“Mom joked, ‘You can’t make chief before me!’” Sergeant Fisher said.

Who won?

In April, Sergeant Crosby found out she had been selected to be one of just 199 chief master sergeants assigned to the Reserve.

For someone whose only goal was promotion to master sergeant, she said she feels like she’s overachieved. Chief Crosby was promoted Sept. 1.

“As old as I was when I joined (she was 33), I’m pretty amazed and extremely humbled to have made it this far,” she said.

Meanwhile, her daughter looks forward to the day she can join her mother in the winner’s circle, atop the enlisted ranks. They talk regularly, bouncing ideas off one another and sharing experiences. For now, Sergeant Fisher said she’s content with what she called the best job going.

“There are so many excellent people in the Reserve,” she said. “I’ll stay in for at least 20 (years), if not longer.”

With this contest ended, Chief Crosby said there are many other races to be run in her career.

“When you think you’ve seen everything, something new happens,” she said. “I’ve learned that you have to take each day as it comes, meet the challenges and try not to worry about tomorrow.”

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