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Chief McKinley looking forward to new job

SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- Command Chief Master Sgt. Rod McKinley admits he is a bit nervous about becoming the 15th chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

But it is not because the job will be too tough or that becoming the Air Force’s top enlisted leader intimidates him, he said. It is the fact he will be the next chief in the long line of those he calls “the great chiefs of our past” that humbles him.

“I just hope that I can live up to half of what they have accomplished in our Air Force,” he said.

The chief, from Mount Orab, Ohio, assumes the post July 1 from Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray, who is retiring after four years on the job. Chief McKinley and his family discussed the move before he took the post. He is ready for the challenge, he said.

“I’m always real comfortable about any job I have in the Air Force,” the 32-year veteran said. “And I’ve lived by a simple philosophy: Whatever job the Air Force gives you, just to do the very best that you possibly can.”

So the chief goes to his new post with an open mind. He does not have any firm plans on how he will do his job. And he does not have a list of changes he wants to make. And though he has gotten a lot of advice on what to do from a host of people, the best advice he received came from Chief Murray, he said.

“Chief Murray’s advice to me from the very beginning is: ‘Rod, just go be yourself,’” he said.

The chief said he has been himself since he joined the Air Force in 1974 with two of his hometown buddies. After basic training, they each went their separate ways. The chief went on to become a medic. After a break in service, he rejoined the Air Force and today is the only one of the trio who made the military a career.

Did he or his friends ever think one day he would be the top enlisted Airman?

“Heavens no,” the chief said. “I was just trying to be a good Airman.”

The chief admires good Airmen. They make the Air Force as good as it is, he said. He was at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, May 17 and 18, sitting on the board that selects the next Air Force 12 outstanding Airmen and first sergeant of the year. He was in “awe of the incredible Airmen” under consideration for the honors, he said.

One of the main reasons the chief agreed to take the new post was the prospect of getting to meet Airmen like them, he said. That is what motivates him most about going to the Pentagon and then going on the road to meet Airmen on the job around the globe.

“To get out there and shake their hands and look ’em in the eyes and tell them how much I appreciate what they’re doing, fighting this war on terrorism and upholding the freedoms and democracy for our country,” he said. “To look Airmen in the eyes and just say thank you.”

Chief McKinley takes on his new role as the spokesman for the Air Force enlisted corps at a critical time in the service’s history. That fact is not lost on the chief, who likes to come across as a self-professed “country boy from Ohio.” But one conversation with him dispels that image. He is an Air Force professional who knows what he must do to help the Air Force achieve its three top priorities.

“That’s wining the war on terrorism, taking care of our Airmen and recapitalizing our inventory,” he said.

To achieve those goals will take Airmen living the Air Force core values, learning to accept change and getting back to some of the basics that have defined his career, he said.

“I’m very much on discipline. I’m very much on standards, customs and courtesies,” he said. “That is what has built our military to be so great.”

The chief knows he has a tough job ahead of him. And he knows he joins Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley at a critical stage in Air Force history -- a time of transition and redirection.

But a stint as a medic will help him do his job, the chief said. Having worked in a hospital emergency room as a young Airman has given him an appreciation for the life-and-death situations Airmen face each day on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You had to remain calm in those situations,” he said. “I don’t get excited.”

Those are good traits to take into a job that, at times, can be like working in a pressure cooker. But the chief said he does not worry about what may come. He knows he has a great responsibility representing Airmen -- a task he does not take lightly.

Along the way, Chief McKinley will have to help Airmen accept and adapt to change, which he said is good for the Air Force.

“Change is good because as we change we evolve,” he said. “What we want is not a new Air Force -- just smaller. An Air Force that’s going to be more capable for the future.”

When he returns to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to begin his transition to the Pentagon, the chief will have to pack up for yet another move. But this move will define his Air Force career. And he is ready.

“In the end, I will give my best,” Chief McKinley said. (Courtesy of Pacific Air Forces)