Chief Master Sgt. Calvin Williams is the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) command chief. He began his 24-year Air Force career as an Administration Communications Specialist and has since served in several leadership positions to include his most recent a 365-day tour to Kabul, Afghanistan, as the Command Chief Master Sergeant, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force.
Question: You’ve been in the Air Force for 24-years, how has it changed?
Williams: The biggest change is the complexity of the mission set and the level of expertise that Airmen bring to the fight. We also didn’t have the operational tempo, deployment rate and constant state of change that we have today. Today, Airmen are a lot smarter, more educated and are able to multi-task…they never cease to amaze me.
Question: What is your advice to enlisted members who are trying to “do it all?”
Williams: First, know that the mission comes first. My advice is to “know yourself” and how you relate to the mission and its requirements. However, it’s also important to shoot for that “whole person concept,” which includes pursuing educational goals, volunteering in the community to give back (vitally important), and striving to go above-and-beyond; however, balance is the key variable here.
Question: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Williams: Fitness. We’ve been fitness testing our Airmen for the past 11-years; however, people are still slow to grasp the importance of physical fitness from a quality of life standpoint versus the “checking-the-box” approach. Fitness is important to the mission and supervisors need to lead by example by not only giving Airmen opportunities to excel, but by holding them accountable when they fail to meet the standard. Airmen also need to have personal responsibility in their own fitness as well.
Question: What does it mean to be a NAF command chief and how do you hope that this organization grows from your leadership?
Williams: To me, being a chief master sergeant and a command chief is one in the same…no difference. It’s all about service to your country. I’m as humble today as I was when I first entered the Air Force as an Airman Basic. I’m only as good as the people in the organization…we all have a part in focusing on the mission, taking care of our family members and taking care of each other. With that said, my goal is always to leave an organization better than what I found it.
Question: What was your best assignment and why?
Williams: I have had two “best” assignments. My very first assignment at the Pentagon was great because of its location (closer to home) and because of the level of mentorship that I received on a day-to-day basis from 3-star generals down to staff sergeants. I have taken that model of mentorship down to each and every one of my duty sections since then. My second “best” assignment was at the Holm Center at Maxwell AFB, Ala., because of the level of influence that non-commissioned officers and retirees had on a future generation of officers and citizens. This circle of influence is probably the best I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Air Force.
Question: What’s the hardest leadership challenge that you’ve had to face and how did you handle it?
Williams: This goes back to my physical fitness pet peeve. One of the jobs that you have as a command chief is to sign-off on both demotion and separation packages. My first package was on a 15-year technical sergeant who had four physical fitness failures and I had to make the decision to retain him or to separate him and I chose to sign-off on separating the member from the Air Force. My recommendation to the wing commander was imperative and knowing that I had changed someone’s life was sobering. It was my responsibility to ensure leadership and to maintain standards. Our role as leaders is to inform Airmen about the standard and allow them to leave the Air Force with dignity if they’re unable to meet that standard.
Question: Many would now say that this is a one mistake Air Force, how can Airmen avoid making that one mistake that may potentially end their career?
Williams: It’s not really a one-mistake Air Force; however, as we grow smaller it becomes more challenging to hold on to individuals with negative information in their records. I am perhaps the biggest proponent of preventative maintenance and I would tell people to prevent what they can by making informed decisions, have a plan and take ownership of their mistakes. If members are unable to maintain standards then it becomes our responsibility to return them to civilian life in a positive way by transitioning them back with dignity and respect.
Question: What’s the best enlisted rank to be in the Air Force?
Williams: The “best” rank is that of a chief master sergeant (I think)…although all enlisted ranks are great. As a chief, you receive the utmost respect and admiration from Airmen and your ability to be able to give back and make a difference is so much greater. Honestly, I never even thought that I would be a chief…hard-work, dedication and mentorship worked in my favor. As you climb the ladder you have a greater influence and a “do the right thing” attitude becomes a circle that leads to greatness. With that said, Airmen are a chief’s greatest legacy…