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What I learned from 30 years in the Air Force

F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- To many of you, 30 years may seem like forever, but when I look back it seems like it's only been a couple. And then, as I start to recall many of the things I've been fortunate enough to be part of during those 30 years, everything comes into perspective. While the time may have gone fast, the memories are long. As the memories come flooding back, some of them have more significance than others.

The most important thing I remember is learning to do the right thing even if it's not popular or it causes more problems.

On more than one occasion I stood in front of colonels and other senior leaders and told them what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. I know, some of you think that it's easy because I'm a chief master sergeant, but the first time I did it I was as an airman first class.

The one thing to remember is that if you're right, be professional and make sure decision makers have all the information they need. Once a decision is made it may be too late to fix it without some level of pain.

Another significant memory is "Airmen in need."

I don't just mean young Airmen, but Airmen of all ranks. Everyone at some time or another faces life's challenges and need a little help. I've always kept an open door policy so if anyone needed anything, I was available.

On one occasion I had the opportunity to help a fellow NCO at the NCO Academy. I spent countless hours tutoring him so he could get through the academy.

As I spent time with him, it became very apparent he had a learning disability. I discussed it with my instructor, and between the two of us, we helped this NCO. I tutored him, and the instructor made sure that when he got back to his home station they would continue to give him the tools to be successful. It's significant to note that this person had made it to technical sergeant, even with his learning disability -- this NCO was worth keeping.

While working as one of the shop bosses in a field dispatching shop, I had the job of preparing equipment and vehicles for an inspection. In addition to all of the preparation activities, I spent a good amount of time teaching others what needed to be done. Countless times someone would say, "Is this good enough?" I would tell them that if they had to ask, then the answer was no. In the process of preparing for the inspection the underlying theme I tried to share was not to settle for good enough, that if it was worth doing, we needed to do our absolute best the first time. We were rewarded with recognition and great words in the report; hard work does pay off.

Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do are the Air Force's core values. These experiences all occurred before our core values were formally established. The members of our Air Force have been doing the right things at the right time even when no one was looking, well before I enlisted. It's great to have our core values put into words so everyone understands the expectations placed upon them. And it's even greater to know that tomorrow's Airmen will continue living up to the traditions and values that have been around since the beginning of the Air Force.

The Air Force's greatest resource is each and every one of you. We all have our strengths we bring to the fight, and collectively we are the absolute best in the world at what we do. And because everyone else is so far behind, second place doesn't exist. To achieve that level of excellence, it can only be done by taking care of each other and leading by example. It's important to remember we have to take our eyes off of ourselves and help others achieve their goals, to give them what they need to be successful. I challenge each of you to make a difference in someone else's life.

I have truly enjoyed my time wearing the uniform; the good times were fun, and the not so good times gave me the opportunity to grow. This is a bitter sweet time for me, but I know the Air Force will continue to do great things with all of you on the job. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve with you.