EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
A defining moment; a moment that shapes and molds who you become can happen at any point in your life. For Chief Master Sgt. April Smurda, that defining moment came when she became a first time mom while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Smurda, the 354th Operations Group superintendent, entered into the delayed entry program when she was just 17. She knew she didn’t want to attend college, so she used her cousin as inspiration to join the Air Force. Two months after graduation, Smurda was on her way to Basic Military Training.
“People were always asking me what I was going to do,” said Smurda. “They would always ask if I was going to fly planes, but the truth is I went in open general, so I had no clue what the Air Force had in store for me.”
It turns out, the Air Force needed Smurda to work in space operations, working on satellites. She took her career one enlistment at a time, doing all she was told to do and giving it her best.
As a dual military couple, Smurda and her husband faced challenges throughout their careers. Being in space operations, there were very limited bases she could go. But their biggest challenge came when Smurda was a senior master sergeant and became a first time mom.
“My biggest and most difficult year in the Air Force was when I found out my husband was going on a 365 day deployment and I had a little 6-week old baby to care for,” said Smurda. “This was my first child, I was a squadron superintendent and I had no family around to help.”
Smurda went on to explain she had to learn to rely on others, something she wasn’t accustomed to doing. After the year had passed, she learned a lot about herself.
“You don’t realize how strong you are until you face something that tests you,” said Smurda. “They didn’t have the wonderful programs for active duty moms back then like they do now, and I think they are a great asset to the Air Force. It allows those moms to choose to have children and continue to serve.”
Making the rank of chief master sergeant wasn’t on Smurda’s radar. With the attitude of taking it one enlistment at a time, she always thought if it was meant to happen, it would.
“I’d always been in space operations,” said Smurda. “I was interested in my job, but I had always felt my Air Force contributions could be bigger. While I was stationed at Ramstein in Germany, I learned a lot more about the Air Force perspective and was inspired to play a bigger role.”
Smurda focused on taking care of people, and explained that the more you lead, the more you encourage and the more experiences you gain in helping others. Each experience she had built on one another.
Now, as a chief in the Air Force, Smurda reflected on her time and accomplishments and offered advice to Airmen of all ranks.
“I wish I realized a long time ago what the difference between being successful and being significant is,” said Smurda. “I was so caught up in the definition of success that I didn’t stop to think if I was being significant. It’s important to figure out who you want to be based on your own values and goals; don’t let others define who you are going to be.”
She talked about recognizing the different seasons each person goes through in life and embracing them as growth opportunities. Always focus on the future and remember your “why.”
“Something that helped me determine my “why,” I adopted from a chief I knew before me,” said Smurda. “There are two reasons to stay active; if you’re having fun and making a difference. As long as I’m motived to help the Air Force and Airmen move forward, and I’m having fun doing it, I believe myself to be a valued asset.”