Chief master sergeant of the Air Force shows strength, care throughout his term

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Neil McGillicuddy
  • 89th Communications Squadron flight superintendent
The outgoing Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Rodney J. McKinley will be the first person to tell you that he's not interested in legacy talk. In his recent remarks at the 2008 Airlift Tankers Association meeting he opined, "I don't care about any legacy; I just care about taking care of Airmen." In the end, those eight words are the essence of Sergeant McKinley's legacy: "I just care about taking care of Airmen."

Sergeant McKinley's achievements include speaking at the dedication of the Air Force Memorial, establishing the Enlisted Heroes Walk at Basic Military Training, advocating changes to feedback and performance report forms, championing the Airman's Creed and fitness, expanding the attendance at the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, being a key voice in the Anti-tobacco Campaign, staunchly supporting the Wounded Warrior Program and travelling the world as our spokesman, advocate and leader. Of course, Chief McKinley has been a part of much more. 

In my opinion, the above accomplishments are overshadowed by what I consider to be his greatest accomplishment. The leadership he provided to all of the Airmen when the top tier of the Air Force command structure faced a complete makeover in June 2008 was unfaltering. It was inspirational. It was Air Force leadership at its best.

The chief master sergeant of the Air Force position is one of the three legs of the Air Force leadership tripod. The other two include the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff. Each leg depends on the other for balance. Imagine the shock when two of those legs disappeared. The one left standing must immediately find the strength and agility to stay calmly focused in supporting the sudden load placed upon it. This is where Chief McKinley found himself in June 2008 during a major change in leadership within the Air Force. 

The eyes of not just the enlisted force, but the entire Air Force were upon him. Would he succumb to the pressure? Would he resign the position? Could he lead the transition as the new Air Force leadership came aboard? All of these demands were placed upon the shoulders of an enlisted leader. This was historic and had no real precedent. Chief McKinley did what more than 30 years of experience and Airmanship had prepared him for: he led. One of the cornerstones of his leadership was the promise of getting back to basics, which was outlined in arguably his most important enlisted perspective theme "Blocking and Tackling." 

Here we are - almost a year to the day that the changes in the top tier occurred. We have shifted priorities, taken on new challenges and are still fighting two wars in different parts of the world. Historians will look back at the events and dissect, analyze and conclude. From this historic perspective comes the remarkable legacy of Chief McKinley. When faced with one of the biggest challenges to ever confront an Air Force enlisted leader, he succeeded in the face of overwhelming obstacles and set new benchmarks for not only his office, but all enlisted leaders. Why? How? A simple answer to those that know the Chief: he takes care of Airmen. His legacy and a commitment to leadership excellence is something we can all take part in and be proud of. Thanks, Chief!