Wing’s longest serving Airman hangs up her boots

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shayna Hodge
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Reserve was the furthest thing on Master Sgt. Marina Shillingford’s mind when she moved to Dover, Delaware, in 1982. In fact, the then 20-year-old Barbados native, who also lived in Puerto Rico for some years, was simply excited to see snow for the first time. 

Shillingford said her younger brother, now retired Senior Master Sgt. Derrick Paul, had sparked her interest in the Air Force when he suggested they both join to further their education. 

She said after careful consideration, she enlisted into the Reserve as a commander support staffer in 1985; however, she did so uncertain of whether or not she would enjoy the military experience. 

Turns out she did. 

Shillingford, the 512th Airlift Wing’s longest serving member, retires in November following a 37-year career at Dover Air Force Base.  

“I always knew I could get out of the military if I wanted to,” said Shillingford. “But, I stayed in so long, because I truly enjoyed my time in service." 

The Early Years 

A month after enlisting, Shillingford left for Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, before it became the joint base it is today. She described herself as tougher than tough at BMT.  

“I was 23 when I enlisted, so I had already gained life experiences that made it easier for me to cope with the pressures of BMT,” explained Shillingford.  

She said she fearlessly took on the “snake pit,” a moniker Air Force trainees use to describe the group of military training instructors they must request permission from to enter dining facilities.  

“My brother told me they would be mean to me and make me cry,” said Shillingford. “But, you know what? I had fun with it, because I knew they were trying to intimidate me, and I wasn’t going to let them.” 

Months later, Shillingford began her first assignment in 1986 with the 512th Maintenance Squadron, where she performed administrative work for 200+ maintainers.

She said she loved working for the squadron because of the overseas assignments she got to go on. 

Shillingford explained her favorite annual tour was at Howard AFB, a former air force base located in Panama. Shillingford, the only female who went on the trip, turned out to be a lucky charm for her fellow Airmen.  

When the group arrived to the base, they learned only an all-male dorm was available. Since Shillingford was unable to stay in the male dorm, she was told she would have to stay downtown at an off-base hotel. However, she said her flight chief refused to send her off base alone, and he advocated for everyone to be sent downtown as well.  

“The guys loved that I was on the trip,” Shillingford laughed as she recalled the memory. “Had I not been there, they wouldn’t have enjoyed the luxuries of downtown Panama.” 

Shillingford also explained how the maintainers appreciated the work she did and knew they’d benefit anytime she was on a trip with them. 

“They knew I was a hard worker and would get whatever they needed done,” she said. “Sometimes, they’d intentionally make space for me on a trip just so they had an administrative person around.” 

In addition to Panama, Shillingford’s time in MXS took her to Germany, Turkey, Morocco, Spain and to famous tourist attractions like the Rock of Gibraltar in Spain and the Buckingham Palace in England.  

Shifting Gears 

After serving as a traditional reservist in MXS for over 17 years, Shillingford’s military career shifted when she volunteered to be mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, after the September 11, 2001, attacks. 

Shillingford remembered she was hesitant to come on as a fulltime reservist due to having to pause her civilian job. However, she spoke with retired Senior Master Sgt. Charlie Harrell, the squadron’s first sergeant at the time, who explained the pros and cons of working full time.  

“I remember him telling me I’d regret it if I didn’t do it,” said Shillingford. “He said supporting the mission would be an experience of a lifetime; so, even before our conversation was over, I told him to count me in.” 

For almost eight years, Shillingford supported over 260 reservists who backfilled active-duty maintainers while they were deployed in Iraq.  

“It feels really good to have been a part of something so big,” said Shillingford. “I’m so happy I was able to support our Airmen during such a critical time.” 

Today, Shillingford serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 512th Force Support Squadron’s Career Development Office. 

She is responsible for managing over 30 programs that require her to process promotions, retirements, separations, etc. for the 512th AW’s 1,750 members.  

Shillingford said she is most proud of overseeing the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program, because she gets to support enlisted Airmen who are hoping to become officers. From inspecting uniforms to preparing application packages, Shillingford assists Airmen through every step of their commissioning process. 

“I love it, because it’s like, ‘look at my babies,’” said Shillingford. “I love sending them off to Officer Training School and welcoming them back as officers. Some of them even coin me as a thank you for supporting them.” 

Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Ford, the senior enlisted leader of the 512th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said Shillingford has always been professional and works with a sense of urgency. 

“Marina is a strong, caring and kind soul,” said Ford. “She always gives her time freely, greets people with a smile and gives off infectious positivity. She’s been instrumental in expediting several packages over my promotion cycles, and she took time to polish errors in administrative paperwork that could have held up my personal personnel actions.”


In addition to caring for Airmen, Shillingford is a proud mother of two daughters. 

“My kids are my greatest accomplishment,” she said.

Jasmine, Shillingford’s eldest daughter, is an Air Force major and author who has published three books and has her own finance business, while Shillingford’s other daughter Amanda is the self-proclaimed “cooking queen” of the family.  

Shillingford said she has taught her daughters the same lesson the Air Force taught her – there are good or bad consequences for every action. She said, she believes this advice has molded them into the people they are today.  

She also mentioned her daughters and other family members are the reason she stayed with the 512th AW her entire career.  

“I felt safe to raise my kids in Dover and most of my family – my support group – lived here,” said Shillingford.


Through the ups and downs, and through circumstances she said she wished would’ve gone a different way, Shillingford has thoroughly enjoyed her military career. 

She said she’s eager to start the next chapter of her life and is considering traveling through the world.

“My Air Force journey has been exactly what it was meant to be,” she said. Now, I’m ready and excited to move on to something else.

To the men and women of Dover AFB, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.” 


Master Sgt. Shillingford expressed her sincere gratitude for those who made a significant impact on her career.  

Col. Rolandrias Bradford 

Retired Col. Willie Cooper II 

Lt. Col. Cathy Anderson 

Lt. Col. Crystal Beach 

Lt. Col. Cathy Milhoan 

Retired Lt. Col. Otis Wilson

1st Lt. Samantha Scarborough 

Retired Command Chief Caroline Thompson 

Retired Chief Master Sgt Nadine Ritter

Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Ford 

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Calvin Little 

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Ford  

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Charlie Harrell 

Senior Master Sgt. Janet Hawkins