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Former Top Chiefs Reflect on Today's Air Force

Former Top Chiefs Reflect on Today's Air Force

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Mattox and 2nd Lt. Amy Hansen, 3rd Wing Public Affairs.

Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska -- (AFPN) October 29, 2002 -- Retired Chief Master Sgts. of the Air Force Sam Parish and Eric Benken talked to hundreds of airmen here last week about how the service has transformed since they held the top enlisted position.

"Today's airmen are better than I was, much better," said Parish, who was the guest speaker at an Airman Leadership School graduation. "We hold our young people today more accountable than when I was an airman in the '50s. Airman in the '50s were seen, not heard."

Benken said the biggest change he has seen in the Air Force since he retired in 1999 is the transition from a Cold War posture to an expeditionary air force.

"We realized in the '90s that we had an increasing ops tempo," he said. "We knew that the missions would be a lot different from the 43 years we had been in a Cold War posture. So, we had to learn how to deploy. We began to start making a lot of cultural changes. We implemented Warrior Week in basic military training, we changed the curriculum for first sergeants, and we started looking at the training we needed to do in order to send (people) to remote locations."

Parish said the deployment of entire units was not common during his service in the military. He retired in 1986.

"In my day, we would (move) people to a forward base to operate out of that base," he said. "If there was a threat, we would move airplanes and pallets forward to do the job. But we always had people in place as a general rule."

Both chiefs agreed that the aerospace expeditionary force concept was a necessary change in the Air Force's operational strategy.

"I think the AEF concept is tremendous for our Air Force in that it is able to provide stability and provide our troops with a time frame for when they are deploying," said Benken.

Although the concept is good, Benkin said the AEF process is going to need continuous adjustments as the United States faces new challenges and missions brought about by the war on terrorism.

Although they acknowledged these new challenges, both remained optimistic about the future of the Air Force, due largely to an improvement in the quality of life for airmen.

"The Air Force didn't even come close to saying that they cared about airmen, even senior (noncommissioned officers), when I came in," Parish said. "If they wanted you to have a wife or a car they would have issued you one."

"Our people are being cared for and represented better than they have been in the history of the Air Force," Parish added.

He was a technical sergeant before he was eligible for base housing, and he could not move his family as a first-termer and be reimbursed for it. Now, even an airman can get base housing.

"We have come to the forefront in making sure that our first-termers are full members of our Air Force, while in my day that wasn't the case," said Parish.

Benken and Parish both believe today's Air Force is on the right track for success.

"We have the best Air Force that we have ever had in our entire history," Parish said. "And believe me, being the best is tied absolutely, totally and directly to the enlisted force. That's because the two-, three- and four-stripers run our Air Force on a day-to-day basis. The staff and tech sergeants fly cover for them and provide the training and technical guidance they need in order to do their jobs. And hopefully, the masters and seniors are flying cover for our staffs and techs whose feet are on the ramp and our chiefs are giving cover for the entire enlisted force and representing that force to the senior leadership. That's what we are all about."

Better technology is helping all ranks achieve their missions, according to Benken. He started his career using an Underwood 5 manual typewriter. Now he sees stealth aircraft, loaded with state-of-the-art communications equipment, flying routine missions.

"I know for sure that technology will continue to grow at a very rapid pace," he said. "You're looking at an increased usage of unmanned vehicles, the development of airborne lasers, and a transition to more of a space force where we are going to have to learn how to protect space assets. So it's going to be complicated and technical, but it's going to be a wonderful place to be. I would encourage anybody who is in the Air Force to stay in and hang on because it's going to be a wonderful ride."

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).