Epitomizing resilience: Wolf Chief 17 retires after 30 years of service

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
From a farm in South Carolina to the coastal plains of South Korea, 8th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Lee "Wolf Chief" Barr prepares to close the final chapter of his Air Force career.

Barr's retirement ceremony was held May 12, 2015 at Kunsan Air Base; however, he plans to have his retirement medal pinned in front of his wife and children at Whiteman Air Force Base in July 2015.

"My wife has been on this journey with me the entire time," Barr said. "We got married between technical school and my first duty station in July 1986."

During his childhood, Barr developed the desire to join the military from service members he saw throughout his youth. 

"In high school I was thinking about college, but I decided to join a military service after seeing how successful my older brother Randy was." Barr said. "I joined the Navy in 1984, but decided to join the Air Force after my brother told me I'd have a better quality of life."

The discipline that kept Barr focused throughout his time in the Navy and Air Force came from lessons learned from his parents. Barr's father always showed up early to appointments and accentuated the importance of integrity to him and his siblings.

"My parents taught my brothers and me that your word and hard work meant something," Barr said. "As a man, your word is your bond and if it's to your disadvantage to do something you promised, then you still have to do it."

Barr remained close with his family throughout his military career, especially his father; however, his personal life collapsed in 1996 when his father passed away. Barr was still a technical sergeant when a master sergeant enabled him to cry and release bottled up emotions.

"That was tough to bounce back from," Barr said. "When my supervisor at the time found out that I lost my dad, he met me in the office and embraced me. I've never cried as a grown man on another grown man's shoulder. The words of encouragement made me want to be that for someone else."

Barr learned that regardless of rank, a supervisor can be emotional with their Airmen and still be the noncommissioned officer or senior NCO the Air Force needs them to be. He stressed that the Air Force needs leaders who can empathize with situations Airmen may experience.

"He taught me a valuable lesson that day," Barr said. "We need to be compassionate leaders who are passionate about our mission and Airmen."

Barr's religious background and spiritual fitness have also played a major role in his success. He relies heavily on spiritual guidance and utilizes spiritual fitness with every decision he makes.

"It is in the center of my being," Barr said. "It shapes and molds me.  I was raised in the church with my parents, so it's always been an influence in my life. It's been paramount because I never would have gotten this far without my spiritual fitness."

At a young age, Barr was grounded with three keys to a successful military career.

"Treat people how you want to be treated, live by our Air Force core values and be the supervisor you've always wanted," Barr said. "It's been the center of my life since 1987 and it makes me the man I am today."

Equipped with keys to success and a spiritual state of mind, Barr was able to face many challenges. In the early 1990s, he was sent on his first deployment during Operation Desert Shield, where he faced the personal challenge of communicating with a new bride and toddler from the other side of the world.

"When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait," Barr said, "I wasn't sure if I was coming back alive when I left my wife and two-year-old behind. Letters took forever, and you got one morale phone call a week, which was often disconnected and made it hard to stay in contact with loved ones and ensure they knew I was safe."

The uncertainty of not knowing what the future would hold made this Barr's most difficult deployment, but the team he was deployed with was a tightly knit family. He still remains in contact with comrades from that group.

"What lightened the stress for that deployment was a team of Airmen that deployed and stayed together," Barr said. "Trying times are stressful for everybody, but you can forge a bond with people who eventually become part of your internal family."

One event that comes to mind when Barr reminisces on Desert Storm is a crew of Air Force special operations Airmen who were killed in action. 

"They were shot down," Barr said. "That's the saddest part. I still think of that crew we lost when I hear Taps today."

Barr also reflects on the recent losses of security forces defenders in Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He constantly stresses to his Airmen the importance of resilience and wingmanship.

"You don't put it behind you, but you certainly learn a valuable lesson," Barr said. "All life is precious. You never know when your time is up, so you need to ensure people understand how important they are in your life."

Stressful events over the years helped Barr ensure he never ends a phone call with a family member on bad terms, whether in garrison or deployed.

"That could be the last time you talk to your loved one," Barr said. "That's not a memory I'd want to put on anyone."

Looking back on 30 years of service, Barr still would do everything the same. For him, serving his country in the Air Force was the highlight of his life.

"I'm having fun," Barr said. "If you cut me, my blood would be Air Force blue. I can't believe they pay me to do this!"