Some things never change

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jack De Forrest
  • Headquarters Air Education and Training Command First Sergeant
The T-38, tail number 68-8357, sitting in Hangar 4 probably still doesn't fit together very well. Don't get me wrong, it always flew missions well thanks to the excellent maintainers who work on it and skilled aircrews who used it. But more than 23 years ago, when I was a staff sergeant and crew chief assigned to the 12th Organizational Maintenance Squadron, there was just something about the way the boat tail lined up with the rear of the fuselage that gave us fits during installation ... and some things will never change.

Since I began this journey with the Air Force in July of 1976, I've seen changes to the color and type of uniforms we wear, I've seen us prepare for and fight in different kinds of conflicts, and I've seen bases that were once part of my everyday vocabulary now closed.
But, like that cantankerous T-38 in Hangar 4, people never change. 

Sure, the faces change. But people outlast equipment, and in my view developing Airmen is the most important investment we can make for the Air Force. Simply put, you can buy new equipment but you have to scratch out a chief or general from new material -- and over years of blood, sweat and sometimes a few tears you find you've left a better person behind when you leave. 

That's why I became a first sergeant in 1990 and haven't looked back. I liked working with people even a little better than working with airplanes, because if you can help a person fix something their life is often improved. When you fix an airplane, it flies but eventually something breaks again. The machines we Airmen respect so much can never appreciate our personal efforts. As good as our aircraft are they will generally not exceed our wildest expectations. However, there's enormous satisfaction in helping people find success in their jobs and careers.

With that in mind, we really need to recognize that anytime we're dealing with someone younger or less experienced we have the opportunity to develop our replacement. Invest the time to listen. Share your experience, your advice, your perspective. Take time to recognize the potential in Airmen younger than yourself and work to foster their success.

The best thing about the Air Force and its Airmen is that we are part of a proud legacy that is now more than a hundred years old. I've called the Air Force "the Long Blue Line" for years because I know the Air Force was here before any of us and will continue on long after weapons systems change and people retire. My place in the long blue line began with my grandfather who was in the Air Service in France in 1916-1917 and continued with my father's Army Air Forces service in the United Kingdom in 1942-1944 and later retirement from the Air Force Reserves. 

Every Airman has a special place in the line. 

One of the best things I saw happen in 30 years is when former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper capitalized Airman and made it a proper noun. In my earliest days being called Airman was almost a derogatory thing for some people. It used to conjure up an image of someone at the bottom of the barrel, someone inexperienced, someone in trouble! I've always believed the Wright Brothers were the first American Airmen and I'm proud to be an Airman more than one hundred years later. 

And some things will never change. 

(Editor's note: Chief De Forrest retires Feb. 15 -- after more than 29 years of service)