Taking care of our people - Airman Dorm Leader's initiatives improve quality of life for permanent party Airmen

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82d Training Wing

Tucked in the back of the base, across the street from the dog park, is the permanent party dorm. From the street, the building looks like any other dorm on the base, but it houses junior and single Airmen who keep Team Sheppard running.

Tech Sgt. Cody Wooten of the 82d Civil Engineering Squadron stepped into the role of Airman Dorm Leader in January, 2023. Wooten said that although he had previously been on Sheppard for a couple of years as an instructor, he rarely went to the dorm and was surprised by the unwelcoming day room and lack of overall morale among the residents.

Wooten channeled the optimism and exuberance developed by years of coaching youth sports into his new project – making the permanent party dorm a better place to live.

“My number one objective was to change the culture in this building,” he said. “I really wanted to make it a fun place to live. Mental health is a huge issue in the military and it really affects single Airmen who live by themselves in the dorms. You come home from work every day to a room that’s just four white walls and your generic issued blanket. It’s a little much sometimes.”

Wooten devised a three-year plan of improvements that would create a sense of community among the residents. The biggest project was the new day room, which was accomplished by repurposing an empty dorm suite. The end result was four differently-themed rooms that the newly-formed dorm council designed and furnished with funds donated by the Sheppard Spouses Club under his watch.

Wooten walks through the dayroom, clearly proud of the involvement of the Airmen who worked on the renovation. He gave the council free reign with the donations as long as they turned in receipts, and got better results than he expected. He stands behind a bar some of the residents bought and refurbished.

“They sent me a picture and I was kind of upset,” he said. “It was 200 bucks and I thought it was a waste of money. It didn’t have a top and it wasn’t painted. They said ‘we're gonna sand it, paint it and epoxy it,’ and I thought, ‘no you're not, nobody does that. Everybody says they're gonna do that but they don't.’ Sure enough, they did it and they put Air Force history paperwork down and epoxy over the top. My goodness, it turned out great.”

Other projects were smaller-scaled but still had positive impacts. Wooten created a Discord channel for the dorm to improve communications and created an award for dorm of the quarter, which he was able to work with command chiefs to elevate into a wing-level award. After residents saw the award and how it was presented, interest surged.

“We had about four people submit their rooms for the first quarter award,” he said. “For the second quarter, it was 16. I told them, ‘It’s a wing-level award and it’s the easiest one you’ll ever get. You don’t even have to submit a package, you just have to have a nice room. In return, you’re helping your mental health by having something that feels like you.”

Wooten’s three-year plan has been condensed by two years due to orders to Guam in early 2024. However, he remains undaunted in dedication to the permanent party dorm residents. His newest project, bird netting in the gazebo where residents can gather outside, had him clearing out a pigeon infestation and drilling anchors into concrete late at night and on weekends.

To Wooten, it was worth it. Although he has a vision of adding nice outdoor seating and possibly a television, permanent party personnel are already having cookouts on the weekend and hanging out in a place that was previously unusable.

According to Wooten, the cultural shift in the dorms could potentially impact the careers of the Airmen involved with the improvements by empowering them to improve the lives of others.

“It’s going to help them in life. Being outgoing or charismatic is a learned skill that opens up so many doors, career-wise,” he said. “You’re going to win every time you're changing lives. You're bettering human beings. That’s going to be impactful every time you do it.”

Although he spearheaded the effort, Wooten is quick to point out that he does not deserve all the credit.

“Ultimately, the successes and changes that have been made at this dormitory are possible because of the command team at CE and the Unaccompanied housing office,” he said. “The 82d CES has a small military presence. The CE senior enlisted leader, MSgt. Kimberly Roberts and the CE Commander, Lt. Col. Jon Jones have been amazing with how they empower me and support everything I do at this building.”

To Jones, Wooten embodies the spirit of caring for Airmen.

"Tech. Sgt. Cody Wooten has been exceptional in picking up the football and running,” he said. “Since he joined 82 CES in January 2023, Cody has made an incredible and immediate impact on improving the quality of life of Airmen in the permanent party dorm.  He is a visionary, organizer, fundraiser, and handyman. He just leads Airmen and gets the job done!"