Year of the Pathfinder: Champion shares inspirational lessons

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

“Pathfinders are diverse,” said Col. Kurt Wendt, 501st Combat Support Wing commander. “The nature and layout of our wing is diverse, and our Airmen are diverse – each with a unique background and perspective that is essential to our collective ability as a team.”

Staff Sgt. Kaylee Champion, 501st CSW logistics planner, has overcome adversity her entire life. She reflected on the people who have taught her valuable lessons that have kept her going no matter what obstacles she has met in life.

“Growing up I had a rough childhood,” said Champion. “My mother wasn’t present, so I never had a woman figure to look up to, but I had a stepfather who raised me for the first part of my life. Through all of the trials and tribulations we faced as a family, my stepfather always kept a gentle and positive attitude. He was loving and never let his frustrations bleed into our childhood. He taught me that a positive outlook, resilience, and perseverance can get you through anything in life.”

Champion lived in Utah with her stepfather and sister until she was 12 years old. She then met her biological father and moved across the country to live with him in Alabama.

“This was the part of my life where I learned extreme discipline, to give 110% in all I do, and to always remember my worth and purpose in this life,” said Champion. “He also taught me the importance of service, and how it will always bring joy in your heart to give to others.”

At the age of 13, Champion knew she wanted to join the military. Service was at the forefront of everything she did and she was heavily involved in supporting her local community church. When she joined the Air Force in 2012, her very first supervisor, Staff Sergeant Abbigail Rinaldi, continued to instill valuable life lessons in Champion.

“Abbigail Rinaldi taught me the true meaning of being an Airman,” said Champion. “She taught me a fight worth having is the one where you fight for other people, for their happiness, their well-being, their education, and to always stand for the right things no matter how hard it can get. She always told me, ‘Once you inspire one person, you will have inspired generations.’”

Rinaldi was killed in 2017. Champion continues to carry her mentor’s torch every day in her life and as a logistics planner.

Champion facilitates all deployment planning and execution in the 501st. She is in charge of training 39 Unit Deployment Managers across the wing who deliver combat capabilities around the globe.

“Every time UDMs deploy a member, they relay critical information that will help them [the deployer] prepare their families in telling them ‘see you later,’ said Champion. “In this they accomplish the highest calling the Air Force gives us, to defend and protect the things we love.”

Champion is also appointed as the noncommissioned officer in charge of wing readiness office. Her work directly affects the 501st CSW, reaching all the way to Congress.

“Every month we report the Defense Readiness Status of the 501 CSW to the wing commander and USAFE (U.S. Air Forces in Europe),” said Champion. “We compile a Readiness Report: how are we doing, what manning do we need, what resources do we need, what funding do we need to make mission improvements and streamline our processes so we can do our jobs better, and become more agile in the way we defend the United States of America and our NATO allies. When we report our readiness we are able to have multiple levels of advocation, reaching congressional levels, with what we need at the 501st Combat Support Wing.”

Despite all the struggles and losses in her life, Champion continues to persevere and keep a positive attitude. Taking care of your people, understanding why you do what you do and service with teamwork are the three main lessons she has learned. Valuing the people she serves and supports is the pinnacle of her mission and source of joy in life.

“I am so thankful for the life that the Air Force has given me, and the opportunity to serve every day,” said Champion. “The mission is always going to get taken care of, but if you strive to take care of people first and maintain a positive attitude, you’re going to have a pretty fun time doing the missions. I know people are going to take care of the mission if I advocate and take care of their needs first.”