By Airman 1st Class Tristan Truesdell, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 11, 2018
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- What are the odds of becoming the command chief of a base in your hometown? Many plan to only stay in for the initial four-year enlistment, but some exceed their expectations and get the chance to serve where they always wanted to.
Chief Master Sergeant Eryn McElroy, 341st Missile Wing command chief, served for 21 years before returning to her hometown of Great Falls, Montana.
She decided to join the Air Force because she wanted to take advantage of benefits which would later help with her education and give her a chance to decide on her path while simultaneously serving her country.
“When I first came in, I only planned to do four years,” she said. “My goal was to live by the principles my parents raised me under: do my best, work my hardest, and be kind to others.”
However, she changed her mind along the way and she pushed on to successfully have more than 20 years in her career.
“I’ve tried for years to get an assignment to Malmstrom,” she said. “Then this opportunity came up and I got to come back to Montana.”
McElroy originally came to Malmstrom as the 341st Medical Group superintendent.
Ten months later, McElroy was asked to become the command chief of the wing.
“With promotions came more responsibility and opportunities to help other Airmen,” she said. “It was one of the rewarding points of being in the Air Force for me: being able to take care of Airmen, grow Airmen, maybe do things for them that I felt I didn’t get myself at certain points and be a good supervisor and leader.”
Throughout her career, McElroy says she had numerous people give her positive affirmations about being a chief master sergeant or even a command chief master sergeant in the future, but she originally didn’t have that as a goal.
“I surpassed all my career goals and my mentors along the way are the ones I owe that credit to,” she said. “I didn’t have goals necessarily this high, but people have encouraged me and now I have this great opportunity to serve in this role.”
McElroy says each one of her many assignments have been her favorite, each for similar and different reasons and experiences.
“What made each one my favorite is all the people, our Air Force family, and the relationships our family had with each assignment,” she said.
“But to me, when you’re in the military for an entire career, home truly is where your heart is,” she continued. “Your heart is with your family, co-workers, friends and that’s wherever you happen to be at that particular time.”
During her career as a mental health technician, McElroy had several special duty assignments including military training leader, Air Force Survival School mental health support, a Basic Combat Convoy Course mental health support, and a career assistance advisor.
McElroy’s time with the survival school stood out the most when compared to her other assignments, she said.
“It’s challenging mentally, physically and emotionally,” she said, “When I went through survival training, I had my daughter a couple months before, so I was physically trying to get back to normal.”
McElroy saw the survival school training as an equivalent to going through hard times in life, adding that overcoming difficult times is a good thing.
“They’re not necessarily fun when you’re going through them, but when you make it through it, it’s the sense of accomplishment that you overcame something difficult and you are now prepared for other challenges that may come your way,” she said.
“The whole saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,’ there’s a bit of truth to it,” she continued.
Serving for 21 years, McElroy moved around from education and training commands, to an army post, to an air refueling wing, and other major commands. Each station she experienced had different missions, which she said opened her mindset to become a better leader.
“With each assignment, I’ve learned different ways of doing different things,” she said. “I got to experience different cultures. The way the local population talks, acts, the foods they eat; it changes your perspective the more you’re exposed to it. Those experiences brought new opportunities to learn about and understand people.”
She added, “Of the people you’re leading, many of them may not necessarily be exactly like you. If you experience different cultures, it’s sometimes easier to relate to where Airmen come from and what factors drive and shape them.”
Malmstrom is McElroy’s first intercontinental ballistic missile mission base, which is unique from other duties she has previously served.
It was sometimes challenging to someone who doesn’t directly work or support nuclear systems to understand the complex mission, according to McElroy, but she learns every day.
“I started spending time going to the field with the defenders and maintainers, going to missile alert facilities and talking to the chefs, seeing where Airmen sleep and what an actual capsule looks like,” she said.
“It’s important for our Airmen to understand how our mission works and all the people it takes to make this critical wartime mission successful,” she added.
As the newest command chief, she says her goals are to help out Airmen as much as possible. She’s also aiming to help everyone find people they connect with.
“If I could only pick one thing for people to have in their life that’ll help them be resilient, I would say it would be healthy relationships,” she said. “What helps people get through tough times in their life are those relationships with family and friends who support you, love you and help make you stronger.”
To help with her initiative, a new feature will soon be available, called “Get Out There” which lists local clubs and organizations, allowing Airmen to use a centralized hub to find groups of people who share similar interests.
Her other goals include ensuring Airmen and their families feel cared about, are taken care of, and Airmen feel inspired by something. Whether it is being inspired by pride in their work centers, or being recognized for growth and accomplishments.
“At the end of the day, I truly want to be there to assist Airmen or help to make their life better,” she said. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity and there is no other place my family and I would rather be than here at Malmstrom.”