Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent retires after 30 years in uniform

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
For a high school graduate who found herself joining the Air Force in 1982, all she dreamed of was traveling the world and the chance to see the outside of Duncan, Okla.
After spending more than 30 years in uniform, Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent, 819th RED HORSE Squadron chief of logistics, has lived that dream.

"Who gets to watch a satellite launch into space?" Kent asked. "Who gets to fly out to an oil rig in the middle of the ocean? Who gets to go to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Korea or Puerto Rico and defend their nation by doing their job and experience all those things? Who gets to change the life of Airmen by changing a policy? I did, and it has been magical."
Although the Air Force has the highest ratio of women to men of all the services, it has not been without a few struggles.

"It has been lonely having few female peers, but none of my successes or failures were because I'm a woman," Kent said. "I succeeded or failed because of who I was. It was never a check against, or for, me. I earned what I've attained because I care."
Kent's actions and work ethic have not gone unnoticed. She hit the ground running when she came to Malmstrom Air Force Base more than three years ago to serve as the wing command chief.

"When I first came to Malmstrom, I was so impressed with the level of young, professional Airmen," Kent said. "They are hard working and dedicated. Every day they step up to the challenge to complete the mission."

After serving as command chief at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and non commissioned officer academy commandant at Peterson AFB, Colo., her experience with carrying the responsibilities of senior enlisted positions prepared her to serve as the 341st Missile Wing command chief for two years. She will be ending her Air Force career as the 819th RHS chief of logistics.

"The workload and pace of a command chief is unbelievable on both the individual and the family," Kent said. "So, coming over to the RED HORSE and being associated with this amazing unit has been the perfect way to end things."

Kent joined the Air Force as a supply troop, and since putting on chief master sergeant, has held four other Air Force positions: professional military education, group superintendent, command chief and vehicle maintenance. Although she has climbed through the enlisted ranks, she owes much of her success and determination to two mentors she met while stationed at Ellsworth AFB, S.D.

"Back when I was a staff sergeant and technical sergeant, I was scared to death of Master Sgt. Harvey," she said. "She would give me written feedback every quarter and talked to me about my strengths and weaknesses. But she taught me that if you really care about the success of a troop, you will give them honest, direct and continuous feedback. And so, she helped mitigate many things I was doing, not wrong, but things I could improve on. She also made me feel really proud of the things I was doing right. Bill Able taught me that it was a leader's job to take those around you and provide them with opportunities to succeed or fail. If they succeed, you cheer them on and give them new challenges. If they fail, you help them brush it off and figure out what they can improve on and give them another try."

Kent seized every opportunity she got: she received a promotion to technical sergeant through the Stripes for Exceptional Performers program and has held the rank of chief master sergeant for 10 years. It's hard not to wonder if she had this planned out her entire life.

"I had no idea I would be in for 30 [years]," Kent said. "But somewhere between that four-year and eight-year mark, I became the Air Force. I couldn't separate myself from it; I became a lifer. I was working in the supply world and I could see a direct tie to mission accomplishment. I knew that the planes at Ellsworth could not fly unless I did my job. I had a lot of job satisfaction and I completely enjoyed the people I was around and felt I had the opportunity to be anything that I wanted to be."

Although Kent has spent more than half of her military career at Ellsworth, she will be retiring with her husband of more than 27 years, Larry, and her three sons, Bryan, 24, Bryce, 20 and Blayne, 18 in Great Falls.

"We planned on going back to Rapid City, S.D., but what we found in Great Falls was a town so welcoming and open," Kent said. "I've never had a better relationship with the civilians, and so that's one of the reasons why we're staying here. We fell in love with the people. My sons and husband love the outdoors and I love the river and the mountains. The people here are very similar to the ones at Malmstrom; they're rugged, honest and good Americans."

After 30 years in the Air Force, Kent and her family are ready to settle into the civilian world of Great Falls. She plans on earning a master's degree, going on a mission trip to Haiti and growing out her bangs. Although Kent's adventures in the Air Force will be coming to a close as she retires Aug. 3, her positive attitude and accomplishments have been an inspiration to members of Team Malmstrom.

"I'm going to take some time off and figure out what I'm going to do next," Kent said. "It's exciting. I just want to let Airmen at Malmstrom know that they can do anything they set their mind to. The Air Force wants them to succeed. If they want to be a chief master sergeant or a colonel or a general, we want them to be the most they can be."


Life goes fast:
Words of wisdom from Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent

Life goes fast! It seems like just yesterday I joined the Air Force, but almost 30 years have flown by in the blink of eye. Here are a few life lessons I have learned over the years (some of them I learned easier than others):

~ Enjoy what you do or do something else. On most days, you should wake up excited about the day. If you can't do this, you are in the wrong line of work. However, sometimes happiness is a choice, not the circumstances you've been placed in. Wake up and choose to be happy.

~ Speaking of waking up ... wake up each day resolved to be a little better than you were the day prior. Basically, be the best you can be at whatever you are doing that day.

~ Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to anger. It is amazing what you hear when you actually take the time to actively listen, but so often we start forming our rebuttals before we get the whole story. Or worse, we are too preoccupied with something else to listen. And, save your anger for the situations when it really counts (true injustices), not on things that are trivial/petty/fleeting. Your energy is wasted on these.

~ Exercise, eat right, pray and get enough sleep. These things make you a nicer person (OK, so they make me a nicer person and I figure it would have the same effect on you too!). Basically take care of yourself, no one else will.

~ Laugh often and mainly at yourself. Laughter is great medicine! It keeps you humble, makes you more real and relieves your stress.

~ Life isn't fair, so get over it ... you can be disappointed when someone gets something you think you deserve, but learn to be happy for them. Make yourself see the glass as half full. Choose to see the positive aspect of situations. It will save the lining of your stomach.

~ Be true to yourself, be willing to say you are sorry if you've done something wrong, and forgive those who have wronged you. If you don't do these things, each one will eat away at your soul, bit by bit. So do those things for your benefit, not someone else's.

~ Assignments are not made great because of the location/job; they are made great by the friends we make, the lives we make better and the new things we experience.

~ Make a bucket list-then do it! Remember, life is short.

~ Be kind! No, really, I mean it. You remember the "golden rule:" Treat others as you would want to be treated. You should be kind to your peers, subordinates, superiors, customers, the person on the other end of the phone, your suitemate, spouse. The world is very small and the Air Force is even smaller. You never know when you are going to come across "that" person again. Your new boss, the person reviewing your promotion package, the person you need to get approval on something important. Be kind, you won't ever be sorry.

~Don't ever stop learning. Go to school, learn to paint or to play an instrument, improve your skills on something you already enjoy, read books that have good content (and some for fun too. I just read Hunger Games Series), do puzzles ... you get the point ... keep your mind active.

~ Don't leave your family behind and call your mother often! You won't regret that either.