WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. --
Moving up in any career, whether as a civilian or an Airman, takes perseverance and forward-thinking. However, to be an African American in Oklahoma in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it takes a little bit more, plus great mentors along the way.
Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Potts, Chief of the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, understands the joys and pitfalls of such a career and has the wisdom to prove it.
"When I came out here on the base, there weren't a lot of people that looked like me out here, almost 30 years ago," said Potts. "I didn't know how far I could get along in rank, because I didn't see anyone higher than a master sergeant, as far as African Americans go. I didn't know where that would take me."
Potts was born in Oklahoma City, where he also attended high school at Frederick Douglass High School. He went on to complete an associate degree and in 1986, joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard as an electrical powerline specialist.
Through Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, Canada, and Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom, Potts appreciates the opportunities in the OKANG and Airmen like Maj. Charles Hall and Brig. Gen. Daniel James III who paved the way for him and other African-American Airmen.
"I know that without them, who knows where we would be," said Potts. "I have a lot of respect for them. I just hope the legacy that I leave will do something similar."
Though Potts has a family-like relationship with the late Tuskegee Airman Maj. Charles Hall's family, he largely credits his success to the support that he received from his fellow Airmen at WRANGB.
"I was pretty fortunate in that I was shielded from a lot of stuff," Potts said. "I had a lot of people who had my back. It's a blessing that I was able to have those people who helped me along the way, white and black."
As a younger enlistee, Potts looked to several WRANGB Airmen for advice. The piece that stuck with him the most was from a retired senior master sergeant here, someone whom Potts is still close with today.
"He was real about everything," Potts said. "He always told me to make sure I was prepared and I wasn't going to get anything given to me. Always be a step ahead. If I was a staff sergeant, he said think like a tech sergeant. And I've always done that."
Potts' mother is another inspiration for his life and career.
"My mom was a big influence, in terms of her love for people, and I have some of that," he said. "She was just so caring and had a nice spirit about her."
A father of five children and an Airman of nearly 30 years, Potts gained a myriad of life experiences while working in several roles and receiving several awards, including the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism medal and the Humanitarian award.
Through those experiences, Potts built up an arsenal of career and life advice.
"Make sure you surround yourself with good people, no matter who it is - size, shape, color, doesn't matter - but surround yourself," he urged. "Make sure that chaos is out of your life. Set goals. Have a plan."
Potts, now passing on the mentorship he received, checks up on his Airmen, even between drill weekends, making sure they follow their career progression paths and pushing them when needed. However, "his" Airmen is a loose term, as he regularly checks on any Airmen, regardless of unit, with whom he runs into during his rounds on base.
"Nothing better than to hear people say, 'Man, you were a great mentor to me,'" he said. "My chest would be stuck out pretty far if I heard that."
Potts put on the rank of chief master sergeant in May of 2013 and plans to retire from the military within the next couple of years, he said. He continues to strive to be a mentor because of the strong support system he had in both his life and career.
"I want to give a little bit of that back, whatever it is I have," Potts finished. "In my opinion, I was put right here for a reason."
To read the introduction to this series for African American History Month, click here
For part 1 of 4, click here
For part 2 of 4, click here.
For part 4 of 4, click here.