Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base --
Master Sgt. Jared Nieves is the 117th Air Refueling Wing inspector general (IG) program manager and inspection coordinator assigned to the 99th Air Refueling Squadron. The IG program is responsible for ensuring units are within compliance with inspections mandated by law and also assess the unit’s capabilities. While assigned to his current position Nieves helped develop readily accessible self-help guides to assist anyone on base in obtaining information regarding compliance.
Nieves is a learner at heart and a pursuit of knowledge is one of his passions. He has a Community College of the Air Force degree in transportation after starting his career in ground transportation. He has an associate degree and bachelor’s degree in project management from Northwest Florida State College, a master’s degree in management from American Military University, a doctorate of management specializing in organizational leadership degree from University of Phoenix, and is currently working on a doctorate specializing in industrial and organizational psychology at Liberty University. He does not plan on stopping there. Nieves does not believe there is an “end of the road” in education. A Ph.D. in communication and a doctor of strategic leadership are part of his plans for the future.
Q: What role does education play in your life?
A: I’m just a person who really enjoys education and learning. I think it is paramount for all of us as
future leaders to indulge in literature and exploit our blind spots but also as somebody who values the Air Force since it has provided me these opportunities for which I am extremely thankful. I feel in order to effectively lead others you must first learn how to lead yourself. Education provides an avenue for me to achieve those means. What I mean by that is education teaches so much more other than the curriculum being presented. Education teaches someone how to prioritize, time management, focus, attention to detail, and a lot of these other instrumental variables that may not be available elsewhere. I feel all of those things contribute to my leadership style and how I will lead airmen in the future. It is invaluable and I believe everyone should take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to them. As I tell all of my troops, “You may decide to take your uniform off any day, however, what you earn while you are in the service and the Air Force investing in you right now that can never be taken away. Earn it while you can and just put in the effort and you can reap the rewards for the rest of your life.”
Q: How do you use your education in applying it to the way in which you lead?
A: The degrees that I have and will pursue coincide with each other. The Ph.D. in management is learning the theoretical and conceptual foundation of leading others. Psychology brings it to the individual level. It’s seeing and internalizing those proverbial “red flags” in airmen and how to bolster performance and to be a more flexible leader. The communication degree helps in being a more flexible communicator and listener. Strategic leadership, I have ambitions on doing a lot of great things for the Air Force because the Air Force has done a lot of great things for me. That course of study is enterprise and it's on a big scale. I want to make a lot of vast positive changes for the Air Force as a whole and hopefully one day I will have the opportunity to do so. The biggest change I would like to make in the Air Force is a re-emphasis on Comprehensive Airmen Fitness (CAF). That's getting more involvement from leadership all the way down to frontline supervisors to really evaluate airmen at the individual level in their physical, mental, social and, spiritual fitness domains. It equates to resiliency and readiness.
Q: How has the Air Force helped you obtain education?
A: Before the military, I never had the vast opportunities to attend education and to better myself professionally but since joining I have had a lot of great mentors, my command in the 99th, and several others who are too many to name encouraged me to pursue education. I truly value and appreciate the Air Force investing in me as an airman and funding my education, I don’t believe I would have received that anywhere else. I remember my mother did not want me to join the Air Force as she thought I would be a target so she was completely against me joining. Then she saw how the Air Force was changing me into a better person and better leader through my mentors, education, and various other opportunities, she was then 100 percent for it. My mother was a pharmacist and she started bringing my basic training photo to work and brag to all of her customers and co-workers. She changed from being completely against it to bragging about her son and I think that was incredible.
Q: Did you have a sense of pride in seeing your mother’s attitude change in regards to your choice in joining the Air Force?
A: Absolutely. I know what I am capable of and what I can contribute and for the Air Force to invest in me and to shape me into what I am today and a continual learner is amazing. Also, for my mother to change from, “Hey, don’t do it,” to my biggest fan before she passed away was absolutely incredible to me. I know she had a sense of pride knowing that her children are doing great things, not just for themselves, but for their country.
Q: What advice would you give to anybody looking to further their education and to see what the AirForce has to offer in terms of financing education? Have you used any education assistance programs yourself?
A: I used tuition assistance for my associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. There are several institutions that are military friendly that people can attend college up until the cap so airmen can attend college without having to pay anything out of pocket. Beyond my master’s degree, I have used my post-9/11 GI Bill. For that small investment in the first year of my career and for everything the GI Bill has provided me and what the Air Force has given to me is invaluable and something I wouldn’t trade for the world. For people who are looking to start out, I would say test the waters first and take one class at a time. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Stay committed and build a schedule. There are so many people that may claim they do not have enough time but it is surprising what can be achieved by taking one class at a time. When people first start there is the light at the end of the tunnel and it seems so distant and by the time they look upwards the light is right in front of their face and they are at the finish line. I think it’s a little commitment and a lot of effort and through continued education, people will see changes in themselves and exploiting gaps in their own individual knowledge.
Q: Do you believe learning new things or information has more to do with effort or talent than people have naturally?
A: That reminds me of the Great Man Theory. It states that leaders are born and that leadership is innate. I don’t agree with that. I believe we all can be leaders and as airmen, we all have started that endeavor to become leaders because we are already that one percent. Effort, it will get you a long way. I can assure you I am not the smartest person in the building or room. It’s the effort that can propel people forward and it’s that commitment to excellence.