Outgoing AFDW command chief shares parting words

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Pat Battenberg
  • Former Air Force District of Washington command chief master sergeant
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye! These are words and lyrics in a song in one of my favorite movies, the Sound of Music. It is also what is on my mind as my thirty-year career in the United States Air Force draws to a close. A lot has changed in thirty years - me, the Air Force, and the world as a whole. When I entered the Air Force the personal computer had not been invented yet, the cold war was heating up, and the Air Force was almost three times larger than what it is today!

It seems like only yesterday I was getting off the bus at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Pick'em up - put'em down...why is someone yelling at me? Ok, so most of you can atleast relate to your first hours in the Air Force as well, but some similarities stop there.

I met my wonderful wife at technical training school at Keesler AFB, Miss. And, even though everyone told us not to do it, we got married after only knowing each other three months. We just celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary last week. I wanted to go to Germany, my wife had orders to Italy; we both ended up in Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Somehow, I never knew that it snowed in Japan. In fact, it snows a lot at Misawa - we had over 250 inches in our second year stationed there. But that is ok, Sherry and I grew up quickly, learned to snow ski, and depended on each other - learning two heads are better than one and if both are trying you can conquer just about any problem.

Omaha, Neb.; Oberammergau, Germany; and Colorado Springs soon followed, and we both grew up a little more and continued to mature. The Berlin wall came down and the "evil empire" disappeared. Opportunities to gain an education, travel, and meet wonderful people abounded. Next came my first tour to D.C., working for the Secretary of Defense on the Air Staff, tackling challenging jobs, and having an opportunity to get to know our nation's capitol. Five years flew by very quickly and an unbelievable offer to work for a four-star general in Headquarters for Pacific Air Forces, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii soon followed. I mean, how lucky does one Airman get?

Sherry and I put our newly acquired aquatic skills of scuba diving to great use, including a once in a lifetime trip to Bali, Indonesia. Then 9/11 happened and the entire world changed again!

A quick tour at Edwards Air Force Base in California and a wonderful assignment at Brooks City Base in San Antonio, Texas soon led to another job in D.C. First, as the command chief for the 79th Medical Wing and finally in my present job, as the command chief for the Air Force District of Washington.

Was that really thirty years? It just seemed so fast! Along the way, both Sherry and I had challenging jobs - some better than others, but all important, and all presenting an opportunity to meet great Airmen and their families along the way. We have made some lifelong friends who we will never forget. As an Airman I have had the opportunity to grow, learn, lead, mentor, follow, as well as work for some great leaders. The Air Force gave both my wife and I a chance to live an exciting life, travel to every part of the world, gain an off-duty education, and as my wife likes to say - Carpe Diem, seize the day!

So what was the big lesson? There are all kinds of people, there are all kinds of ideas, and everyone has their own opinion and that is the way it should be. For me, the opportunity to work with and help develop young NCOs and Airmen were the highlights. Seeing someone who didn't always have confidence and advanced skills obtain both in their development is truly a gratifying experience.

When I entered the Air Force I was most impressed with the equipment - airplanes, radar, rockets, missiles, and almost everything else that was state-of-the-art. But over time, I have come to realize as most people do...it is the people that count the most. The old axiom "take care of your people and they will take care of you and the mission," couldn't be truer.

Finally, the interaction with people from all walks of life, all races, and all faiths working together as one team to accomplish something as a whole that could never be accomplished individually is truly amazing and awe inspiring! Thank for the opportunity to seize the day. Thank you for a great way of life!