Stepping up to the plate

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Elizabeth Davis
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Taking responsibility, rising to the occasion, accepting a challenge and finding someone who steps up to the plate can be the difference between mission success or failure.

Staff Sgt. Darren Weeks, 81st Communication Squadron client systems supervisor, was recently recognized for his dedication to the mission and his fellow Airmen with a surprise Stripes for Exceptional Performers promotion ceremony.

“I was in a meeting, about to give a brief, when the base commander, Col. Pope, walked up to me in front of other leadership,” said Weeks. “He looked right at me and told me I was out of regs. That voice inside my head was telling me that he could see the string on my wrist I forgot to trim…but instead, he surprised me by telling me that my squadron had put me in for a STEP promotion to staff sergeant.”

Despite now being one of the newest members of the noncommissioned officer corps, Weeks had already learned from a young age how NCOs are the backbone of the enlisted force.

Growing up as an Air Force brat, raised by Security Forces and Finance Airmen who were heavily involved in Operation Desert Shield, Weeks felt the sacrifices his parents made for their family and their country. He didn’t understand what took them from home all the time but remembers how his parents made sure their kids had a support system amidst the chaos of military life.

“It wasn’t possible for them to be heavily involved in my life and I never understood that until I ended up in their shoes myself, where I am now,” said Weeks. “Nobody knows the things that we sacrifice better than other members in the military.”

Weeks joined the Air Force in 2019 and landed at Keesler after basic training and technical training. Almost immediately, his supervisors marked him as someone they could rely on.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Dustin Finamore, former 81st CS senior enlisted leader, took a personal interest in Week’s success during their time together.

“He’s one of those guys who knows the job very well,” said Finamore. “He’s committed to the Air Force. I knew he was going to be my guy.”

Weeks saw the Air Force as an extension of his family and made a point to look out for his Airmen just as his parents looked out for him. His humility and professionalism quickly caught the attention of higher leadership, and he credits their mentorship with his success.

“We had a great relationship. They wanted me to take over the booster club and be personally involved in individual squadron things,” said Weeks. “Senior Finamore has been a really good mentor, along with Master Sgt. Aaron Helton and Master Sgt. Justin Henry.”

Weeks championed the creation of a Heritage Room inside the squadron as a place Airmen could come together and relax. He also served on the booster club, mentored eight Airmen, won the Levitow Award, the highest honor presented to a graduate of Air Force Enlisted professional military education, and even planned Finamore’s retirement when the time came.

“He was the Airman put in charge of other Airmen,” said Finamore. “That’s a really hard position to be in. He did it very well and took it very seriously.”

Overall, Week’s STEP promotion experience was a full-circle moment for the whole family.

“In 2003 my mom, Master Sgt. Misti Wickersham, was STEP promoted when she was at Beale AFB,” said Weeks. “It’s very special to me that we get to share this tradition. I’m looking forward to carrying on that legacy in my career, developing my skills as a cyber professional and as an Airman in the years to come.”