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September Chief's Perspective

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Marcus Johnson, 169th Communications Squadron superintendent, August 12, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St. Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Marcus Johnson, 169th Communications Squadron superintendent, August 12, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. James St. Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

As I reflect on my career, I cannot help thinking about “How did I get here?” Here meaning 35 years of service and becoming a chief master sergeant. I ask “How” because it was not my plan to serve this long. Nor did I think about becoming a Chief. I have always loved my career field. But I had to learn to love the journey. I say this because I did not join the military out of some sense of patriotic duty or love of country but more to escape a small town.

First, I joined the Air Force more as a means to escape the environment of my small rural hometown in Georgia. At 17 years old, the only thing I knew is that I wanted a way out, a career in electronics and did not want to go to college. The military was a common way a lot of people I knew growing up used to get out and it was my best avenue to gain a skill set while earning a paycheck. I only enlisted for four years because I was not sure if this was a life for me. I became a cryptographic equipment specialist and I knew I was in a career field that I could come to love. I got into a world of digital and voice encryption of classified information systems. I was able to see the world with my assignments to Japan, England, and Florida after spending a year at Lackland AFB, Texas. What a life for someone who only left the state of Georgia twice in my life prior to joining the Air Force. That joy was short lived upon arriving at my second duty assignment. England was great but I had a very strong dislike for the base. At that point, I decided to take my last assignment, leave active duty, and to go to college.

Secondly, the reason I continued serving was for the education benefits. Joining at 17, I turned down the GI Bill and the National Guard was now my way to pay for school. Besides getting money to pay for school, I also got tuition repayment. While in college, I volunteered for as many TDYs that I could to earn extra money. Getting these benefits now pushed me to the ten-year mark and now I was at the hump. Little did I know that experience would change the way I viewed the Air Force again.

Finally, I continued to serve because I was now ten-years in and did not want to throw that away. I decided to make it a career and the 169th Fighter Wing became my home in 1996. I have severed with two great units: the 240th Combat Communications Squadron and the 169th Communications Squadron. During this time, I continued my education and was able to move into the IT world fulltime. Over my career, I have been able to see communications go from vacuum tubes, transistors to microprocessors and mechanical teletypes, tape readers to multifunctional printers.

With the deployment tempo, I know the military is not for everyone and life will always give us lemons. We understand the “Why”, pass judgement and help them make lemonade. There is pride in wearing the uniform and we want to retain as many good Airmen we can instead of letting them walk away. Whether you joined as a means of escaping your environment, for education benefits, for job security, or for patriotic duty- make the best of it. The reason why you joined does not bother me. I want to help our Airmen understand the many reasons to stay. Show them they have value now in the way of increased responsibilities, recognitions, advancements, and benefits. Show them the value of making the military a career in the way of retirement pay, medical benefits, possible VA benefits, education, and others. I want to thank you all for your service.