From Airman to Chief: Reflecting on 30 years of service

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gigi Manning
  • 315th Airlift Wing Command Chief
Over 30 years ago, as a young Airman Gigi Manning, I remember gazing proudly into the mirror as I straightened my olive drab uniform at Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, it seemed like it would take forever to fill my sleeve with stripes.  But oh, how time flies when you're having fun.

Even back then I knew the stripes other people wore were more than just something that came with time, but were earned with much effort, sacrifice, commitment and, yes, sometimes learning things the hard way.

After completing Basic and then my technical school, I was very excited to report to my first duty assignment here in Charleston with the 437th Airlift Wing as a C-141 Starlifter jet engine mechanic.

As a young Airman, I quickly came to appreciate the roles and knowledge of many of the noncommissioned officers I worked for. I learned that the basic concept of what makes a great NCO is pretty much the same regardless of the nametag: a leader of people who demonstrated, by example, their proficiency and the highest level of professionalism.  But I also saw that there was more to it than that.

I've known a few young Airmen who mistakenly viewed an NCO as someone who was quick to chastise when mistakes were made.  But for me, like many others, I looked to them as an opportunity; someone to learn from and someone who could help me be the best Airman I could be and help make the most of my Air Force career.  It didn't take long to learn that by following their example and constantly pushing myself to be the best Airman I could that I would eventually see my successful Air Force career come to fruition.

I also found that it was not always easy; there were bad days where it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  That's life. Anything worth having is worth the extra effort.  By constantly striving for perfection in every thing I did each day, it has lead me down the path to success as I gradually progressed through the ranks.

I also learned that the most successful Air Force careers are not the result of never making mistakes, but rather by sometimes making mistakes, learning from them and not repeating them.

Success is not about getting the most stripes on your sleeve and telling people what to do, but it is achieved by earning the respect of those around you, by fostering professionalism, acting with integrity, exhibiting moral courage, and sharing your enthusiasm relating to all of these values.

Now, 30 years later, I sit on the twilight of my career and see that same twinkle in my eye as I look into the mirror. Instead of a young proud Airman with her "mosquito stripe" rank,  I see the Chief that I have become.  I still have the same feeling of pride and the same youngness of heart. As I look at each one of the ribbons on the chest of my service coat and the sleeve full of stripes on my arm, it's hard to avoid briefly reflecting on the stories behind each one, and the people I had the privilege of knowing along the way. 

If I shed a tear at my retirement this April don't feel sorry for me because it's not sadness sweeping through me - It's a feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment. I also remember that like everyone else, I've made a few mistakes along the way, but I can honestly say I have no regrets.

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