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Thank you Air Force family

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Tammy Elliott
  • 20th Air Force command chief
I joined the Air Force in 1982 a lost soul. I had no goals, a pretty shaky moral code, no vision and a pretty shadowy self image. Frankly, I was a bit concerned there was another institutional life looming in my future -- one with bars, and I'm not talking about captain bars. I wanted to get out of town, travel and gain college benefits. My brother, Rick, was in the Navy and he was doing alright, so I figured if he could do it, I could do it. I did not join to serve God and country and it never occurred to me that I'd stay in for any substantial time. I didn't know until years later that my own dad didn't even think I'd make it through basic training. Here I sit, almost 30 years later wondering where the time went and facing the fact that this last message is pretty simple. It's "thank you."

Thank you to the Air Force for classifying me in a job I'd never heard of, Air Traffic Control, challenging me and scaring the snot out of me with the training -- and teaching me, for the first time, that I was capable of a lot more than I would have ever imagined. And that was only the first time. The following years were filled with challenges scaring me enough to respect the task at hand, but intriguing me enough to "hold my nose and jump in." Through the course of these challenges and a host of opportunities, I was privileged to find my real comfort zone -- people. Every job from the time I was a Buck Sergeant to my current job and rank, have been about leading, guiding, disciplining and communicating with the people who have been more than family.

Thank you to Airmen of all ranks along the way who have had a profound affect in more ways than I can list or define. My first supervisors had much more faith in me than I ever had in myself. People from all over our nation, wearing the same uniform, serving the same cause taught this lost soul more about integrity, service and excellence in my first few years of the Air Force than I had witnessed in my life. I absorbed these things before I understood or adopted them, but the constant excellent examples finally took root -- it was like a new upbringing. And I changed. I morphed because of the actions of those around me who cared for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. The reasons I stayed in the Air Force continued to become less and less like the reasons I joined. They had less to do about me, and more to do about the people and the service. And it was the Airmen along the way who led me before "mentor" was an acknowledged term. They led and I followed and I thank them.

Thank you to every Airman I've had the privilege of leading. You've taught me way more than I ever taught you. I guarantee that your mere existence has kept me motivated and focused. They say the best motivation is intrinsic, coming from inside. My brain knows that is true, but it cannot explain what my heart knows; nothing in the world fires me up more than spending a day out in the trenches with young Airmen and NCOs -- nothing. And after almost three decades of fantastic opportunities and travels, what I will miss the most, hands down, is the light in the eyes of young, proud Airmen. The instant kinship and trust. The motivation of every Airman. Where else could I ask someone if they could just, when they have a minute, move a mountain, and get an immediate, "Chief, I'm on it."
And then, to the amazement of all, they do it. "They" is you. You move mountains every day and I will sleep well at night knowing that you will continue to do so in a manner that would shame Superman. But I'll miss the honor of watching you do it -- of sharing the playing field. Thank you for every minute you've spent with me, every minute you've served this great nation because you choose to.

Thank you Air Force, thank you every Airman, in and out of uniform. You've given my family and me the ride of our lives. We love you and we will have you in our hearts every day.