Airman retires after 30 years

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dillon White
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
More than 29 years ago a recent high-school graduate found himself crawling in an attic repairing air conditioning duct work. 

The attic was in Florida, and the young man was Steve Sargent. 

Then he spent a brief stint working at a local car dealership parking and dusting cars, before deciding to visit the Air Force recruiter's office. 

"I knew there was more to life than that," said Chief Master Sgt. Steve Sargent, 341st Missile Wing command chief master sergeant. "The rest was history after that; I never looked back." 

He picked the Air Force intentionally because he had a background in Civil Air Patrol and it was in his comfort zone. 

"My first thought of hell night in basic training was 'what did I get myself into,'" he said.
Since he had experience in CAP, he was offered a bypass through basic training, but was petitioned by his training instructor to stay and become his dorm chief. 

"I forfeited my bypass opportunity and quickly discovered it wasn't because of my dynamic leadership ability or anything else; my TI wanted me to be his dorm chief," Chief Sargent said. "He got the biggest kick out of taking me around to all his other TI buddies and introducing me as 'Chief Sargent.'" 

While his last name and his TI's gag did make him seem predestined for his current rank, it was not his name that led him through his career as his peers can attest. 

"With or without stripes, it's pretty easy to recognize Steve Sargent as a 'chief,'" said retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Jim Finch. "If you want to know the character of a man, watch how others act around him and listen to what they say when he's not present. Frankly, Airmen, NCOs and officers alike seem to [be drawn] to him whenever he walks into a room, and I know he is a well-respected leader from the glowing comments whenever Steve's name is mentioned." 

Chief Finch added that Chief Sargent defines the Air Force "chief stripes." 

"He's a dedicated professional who takes his responsibilities seriously without seeking fanfare or credit," Chief Finch said. "He genuinely cares about people and is one of the most inclusive Air Force leaders I've encountered." 

Chief Sargent was active in the base honor guard program and started a rifle drill team during his first assignment; activities that he speculates may have led him to his position as a TI. 

"I didn't volunteer to be a TI; technically, if you look at my records I did, but I beg to differ with that," he said. "I was 'volun-told.'" 

Chief Sargent strongly suggests all Airmen should step out of their comfort zones temporarily to try new things whether it is assuming a leadership role in a local organization or taking a step further and applying for special duties such as recruiting, teaching a trade at a technical school or becoming a TI. 

"Even though I didn't volunteer for my first special duty, I did it to the best of my ability and I think I did okay; I had 11 of 14 honor flights under my belt," Chief Sargent said. "I embraced that opportunity; I learned from it; and I developed myself as a person - leader. I was able to bring those skills of self-motivation, discipline - all those things I learned being a TI, when I returned to my career field and it gave me the foundation of who I was to become." 

Chief Sargent faced several large challenges in his career. The first was managing the supply modernization project, which restructured the way supply operations are run today Air-Force wide. The second was the revamping of Air Force basic training. 

"I guess I got a reputation for change management, and that is one of the reasons they selected me to be the superintendent of basic military training," he said. 

Chief led the program that transitioned basic training to eight-and-half-weeks while adding more war skills training in the basic expeditionary airman skills and training, known as the "BEAST" which replaced warrior week with a combat deployment simulation. 

The chief's challenges did not go unrewarded and his favorite assignment was a misnomer, he said. 

"I'm on my 13th, and everyone has been great," Chief Sargent said. "I've been very blessed, but if I had to pick one, this one is a highlight of my career. It has been a phenomenal experience. What makes it great is the people and the community. I have never been to a base with this kind of environment." 

Chief continued by saying he was unsure at first why he had been sent to Malmstrom. 

"Once I got here and understood the extreme conditions and standards, it all clicked," Chief Sargent said. "This is where I should be. The discipline required here in this mission is what I have aspired to my entire career. The first time I saw an Airman performing the ritual of maintenance on a missile and the discipline involved with that, it blew me away. I have never been so proud of Airmen and the way they perform. To end my career here is very appropriate." 

Chief's rewarding experiences prior to leading Malmstrom's enlisted corps included his experiences while commandant of The Kirtland Noncommissioned Officers Academy. There, he commanded a staff faculty of 13 people and averaged 115 students per class and seven classes per year. 

"It's one of the few enlisted jobs that has command authority," Chief Sargent said. "It was incredibly rewarding; the autonomy of running your own school is unique to the enlisted corps." 

Following his assignment to The Kirtland NCO Academy, his other memorable moments occurred on the parade field at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, 

"I relate my time as BMT superintendent to the movie "Ground Hog Day" with Bill Murray," the command chief said. "I woke up every Friday and there was always going to be a parade. Every Thursday, there was a formal retreat and a coin ceremony. Some things were very regimented, everything in between was radically different. I never knew what kind of challenge was going to drop in my lap that day." 

Fortunately for the chief, Friday was his favorite day. 

"I had the privilege of creating Airmen every single Friday," Chief Sargent said. "It doesn't get any better than that. What a cool experience it was to stand on the parade field with thousands of proud parents as we transitioned civilians into the United States Air Force."
Chief Sargent also deployed to Taji, Iraq to help stand up the Iraqi Air Force's basic training program. Training instructors continue to deploy to train Iraqi enlisted in an area that was destroyed by bombing during the Iraq War. 

The retiring command chief also shared several lessons he has learned during his career. 

Beginning with the NCO corps' role as a powerful tool, and a backbone of the Air Force that makes it work, he said. 

"Commanders have confidence that when they ask for something to be done, [NCOs] find a way to do it," Chief Sargent said. "We've always been creative." 

Secondly, leadership comes from all ranks, he said. Leaders are everyone, from an E-1 who has leadership influence in their peer group as an informal leader, to a first-line supervisor in the NCO corps, a Senior NCO who develops the NCO corps or the officers who guide them. 

Chief also said that change is a four letter word: GOOD. 

"I have always been an advocate of change, but not an advocate to change things just because you can," he said. "We need to adapt our military to the current environment." 

From here, Chief's life will continue to change as he moves his family to Marietta, Ga., to take on a new challenge as a lead training and development manager for Lockheed Martin, at a plant that builds the F-22 Raptor and C-130J. 

"Interestingly enough, I have spent my whole career developing Airmen in some way," Chief Sargent said. "As a TI, I taught future Airmen, I taught my trade at tech. school, and taught Airmen as a PME commandant. I have always found the podium and developed Airmen whenever I could." 

Chief Sargent said he will miss the common bond held by members of the military and our traditions. 

The life-time Air Force Sergeant's Association member also said he plans to stay as active in the Air Force as possible, and will from now on develop Airmen of a different type. 

"We want to thank the Sargent family for their many years of sacrifice and devotion to our Air Force," Chief Finch said. "Collectively they have touched the lives of thousands and made us a better organization because they served. We wish them the very best as they make their transition to Georgia. My wife, Pat, and Chief Sargent share a personal connection as former 'Blue Rope' MTIs, and I feel a similar bond with him as a former NCO Academy commandant. Thank you for your time Chief, and thank you for your service."