(This week, we'll post a feature each day on the 2014 Outstanding Airman of the Year winners who will be honored during the Air National Guard's Focus on the Force Week, Aug. 4-7)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. - Leadership and development are integral to Master Sgt. Linda Schwartzlow’s personality and lifestyle. Recognized as First Sergeant of the Year by the Air National Guard, Schwartzlow says she was attracted to the military because of the opportunities available to help people develop to their fullest potential.
“I really like the distinct black-and-white, right and wrong, rules and regulations of the military,” she said. “It matches my personality.”
Before she joined, the concept of military service was familiar to Schwartzlow, as her father also served in the Air Force as a radio operator in the late 1950s. “He served honorably for over three years and met my mom while he was stationed in England,” she said.
“My mom was born during World War II, but she was so young that she didn’t remember a lot of it. During the war, her family was separated and her tenacity to overcome obstacles stayed with her.”
Overcoming challenges is what Schwartzlow does. As a first sergeant, she is noted for her talent helping Airmen, guiding them to make good decisions and instilling enough discipline to make them turn them around. She has provided expert counseling and life-saving intervention to many members, connecting them to support resources - from legal to financial - to help them during times of need.
“The Guard is a family, which might sound trite, but it’s true,” she said. “You become comfortable with the people you work with. But you can’t let that make you complacent; you need to make sure you don’t take people for granted. On the flipside, it’s wonderful that we have those deep bonds -that we know people enough that we can anticipate how they will behave or perform in a certain situation.”
Schwartzlow is married to a retired Guard member, Ken, and is the mother of two grown daughters. She also has two grandsons, who bring her much joy. “We spoil them on the weekends, and then give them back.”
During hard times, Schwartzlow thinks about her deceased mom, and her mother’s challenges. “As you can imagine, it was very difficult for her and her family,” she explained. “She went in one direction, her brothers went another and her dad left to serve in the war in Africa and Italy.”
For inspiration, she thinks of her mom’s later years. “My mom had emphysema and was on a lung transplant recipient waiting list for about five years. Finally, she received the gift of a new lung and enjoyed life to the fullest for four more years. She remained positive throughout the whole ordeal; she never felt sorry for herself,” said Schwartzlow. “That was her spirit - very positive and enduring, despite significant obstacles.”
Schwartzlow has more than earned her stripes, with three deployments as a First Sergeant, the last being a 180-day deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base with the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron. “A deployment is like a marathon,” she said. “You have to pace yourself to get through it. When you deploy with your unit, you get to see our Airmen’s true characters; you have the privilege to see individuals mature and grow.” The Schwartzlows have five deployments between them. “He completely understands and supports my military career; he has been an incredible friend and partner to me.”
Positive energy and empathy are second nature to Schwartzlow, so much that she is pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Viterbo University in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. A well-educated first sergeant, she also holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Viterbo, as well as an associate’s degree in applied science and a professional manager certificate, both from the Community College of the Air Force.
Physical fitness is also a lifestyle for Schwartzlow, who has attained a 100 percent score on her physical fitness test for several years. She maintains her fitness through a healthy lifestyle - she plays team volleyball and she runs. While deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, she participated in thirteen 5K or 10K races, as well as the Army 10-miler “When I do a race, I try to make sure the registration money goes to a charitable cause, “ she said. “It’s great reason to sign up and makes it that much more worthwhile.”
If Schwartzlow had the chance to have dinner with anyone in the world, past or present, she would dine with her mom. “I’d love to have one more chance to sit down and chat with her, to spend time with her for just a few more minutes. Life is so precious, and that’s what I’ve learned by helping others. We need to maximize every moment we can.”