Wearing the star: part 1

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. as I got ready to start my day shadowing Chief Master Sgt. Clifton Cole, 28th Bomb Wing command chief.

I was already questioning my commitment to mirror his schedule for the full experience of what it means to be the highest ranking enlisted Airman on Ellsworth.

0500 - PT

"You made it," Chief Cole said as he greeted me in front of the fitness center at 5 a.m. - his daily physical training time.

My acknowledgement was to smile and wipe the sleep from my eyes as we stretched for the upcoming workout. Today was a legs and abdominal muscles day. I work out regularly and score well on my PT tests, so I thought I would be able to keep up.

I thought wrong.

"I like to start my morning off with a workout," he said as he easily lifted more weight with his legs than I thought was humanly possible. "You have to want it for yourself."

Chief Cole is celebrating 30 years of service in the Air Force on Dec. 3 and has attributed his fitness level to a personal desire to stay at peak physical condition.

"I've done it this long because I enjoy it - it's that simple."

0715 - Right Start meeting

After 30 minutes of weight training and 45 minutes of cardio we got ready to start the duty day. Our first stop was a 7:15 a.m. Right Start brief. The briefing is meant to provide an introduction of Ellsworth to non-first-term Airmen who recently arrived on base.

"One thing I've learned during my time in the Air Force is that no one job is more important than another," he said. "We give the warfighter what they need to complete the mission both on home station and downrange."

In order to successfully complete the mission, Airmen must be given the opportunity to succeed in the Air Force, Chief Cole said. He stressed the importance of having both a solid professional military education and strong personal development.

"There are so many opportunities offered to us to develop our leadership skills and PME is one of them, which is why we need to tackle it early on in an Airman's career."

In addition to overseeing PME on Ellsworth, Chief Cole also serves as the functional manager for all enlisted programs on base. He says whenever he travels people tend to feel sorry for his assignment at Ellsworth.

"It's not a bad place to be stationed," Chief Cole said, who has held more than a dozen assignments during his time in the Air Force. "There is a lot to do here. You just have to get out and do it."

Chief Cole said with all of the opportunities in the local area and the programs on base designed to help Airmen succeed, there should be no reason for someone to find themselves in trouble.

"We have so many programs designed to help people; it's tough to watch Airmen make decisions that negatively impact their career."

He also encouraged Airmen to step up into leadership roles within their career fields and on base. But, he made sure to remind those already in positions of authority to maintain their professionalism.

"You can't slow dance with someone on Saturday and then supervise them on Monday."

0900 - Dorm visit

After the Right Start meeting, Chief Cole and I went to the dorms for a briefing on dorm operations. As I sat in my chair, listening to the information presented, I realized that while I was struggling to understand the presentation, Chief Cole was actively listening and engaging his briefers.

"When I'm briefed, I like to know where the funding for a project is coming and how that will coincide with the involved logistics," he said. "With that in mind, Airmen need to take better care of the resources they have so they last longer."

Chief Cole said as 28 BW command chief, he is one of the people entrusted with reviewing products that need approval by Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28 BW commander. I need to do my homework to know the checks in balances in place are working.

1000 - CAIB

The next stop on Chief Cole's agenda was the community action information board. While to me, this sounded like an intimidating meeting of higher leadership on base - it was actually a forum for discussing programs designed to help Airmen.

The meeting presented several programs and ideas which Airmen could volunteer for to improve their performance packages and take ownership of their careers.

"No one likes a professional volunteer," Chief Cole said. "But, Airmen do need to take care of one another."

1500 - Ellsworth Group 5/6

The final stop on my job shadow of Chief Cole was a meeting with the Ellsworth Group 5/6. This group, which consists of staff and tech. sgts, presented a final update on an upcoming staff sergeangt social. Throughout the meeting, Chief Cole encouraged the Airmen involved to take ownership of the process leading up to the actual event.

"The times have not changed," he said. "We need noncommissioned officers to step up and lead our Airmen."

Chief Cole encouraged the group to keep good records, focus on continuity and create programs with the goal of making them self-sufficient.

"I truly appreciate Airmen taking care of Airmen, but we need to look beyond the next group of future NCOs and consider what we are leaving for generations to come."

As the day concluded, Chief Cole sat down at his desk for the first time all day and began sorting through the e-mails he wasn't able to directly answer from his phone. A quick word from his executive assistant, Tech. Sgt. Julia Bruner, 28 BW command chief executive, gave him the details of tomorrow's schedule.

"She keeps everything organized for me," Chief Cole said. "It's really a two-way street. Sergeant Bruner makes sure I'm prepared to tackle the day's challenges, and as her supervisor, I make sure she is properly mentored to further her Air Force career."

I thanked Chief Cole for his time and left to go over my notes from today's experience. I was both mentally and physically exhausted - and today was one of his lighter days.

For me, I was given a unique look into what 30 years in the Air Force can do for someone if they take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the military. I felt excited about the prospect of getting to that point one day myself, and now I'm truly aware of the level of responsibility and dedication that rank and position hold. After seeing the ease at which Chief Cole handles his day-to-day operations, I am reminded of that very old and very true saying:

"They don't make them like they used to."