TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
(Editor’s note: 552nd Air Control Wing Command Chief
Master Sgt. Avery Woolridge will close out a distinguished 30-year career in a
retirement ceremony at 10 a.m. Sept. 9 in Dock 2 of Hangar 230. The chief sat
down with me to reflect on his 30 years in the Air Force.)
TTO: Chief, you joined the
service in December 1986. What made you decide to enlist in the Air Force?
Chief Woolridge: I grew up in a small town in South
Carolina working in a factory with my dad and brother. It was honest, hard work and good money for a
single man but I thought there had to be more than just coming in every day
doing the same thing. A friend of mine
recommended that I go see a recruiter, so I did. I qualified for a lot of jobs and decided to
join up. In fact it was two weeks from
the time I decided to change my life till I was in the Air Force.”
TTO: When did you decide to
make the Air Force a career?
Chief Woolridge: I knew from day one when my
training instructor yelled at me because the person next to me couldn’t get his
key into the lock that I was hooked for 20 years. That was accountability not just for me but
for my wingman, and I have been doing it ever since.
TTO: When you hit the 20-year
point, what influenced you to continue serving?
Chief Woolridge: I was on the Air Mobility Command
staff when my 20-year point was coming up and I enjoyed working with the folks.
Military members have a common bond, a frame of reference that folks on the
outside don’t have. In the civilian
world you get a bunch of people working together but they haven’t experienced
the same thing. In the military we’ve pretty much gone through the same
structure, the same course and the same events.
We speak the same language. We are ultimately a family. I didn’t want to
leave my Air Force family.
TTO: Over your 30 years, what
changes have you seen in the Air Force?
Chief Woolridge: I’ve seen a lot of changes, both
simple and complex, that have affected people. For example, this is my third
utility uniform. One of the biggest changes is the monumental enlisted
development that we are doing right now. When I came in, we had an Airman
Performance Report which was nine-rated. Currently we have the Enlisted
Performance Report which is five-rated and we are transitioning to a new system
that will tackle ratings inflation and ensure that the best stand out and we
truly document the performance of our Airmen correctly. Change is always going to
be with us.
TTO: Do you have a favorite assignment?
Chief Woolridge: Kadena Air Base in Japan. I went
there as an instructor. Just to be able
to live in a different culture and country was great. My family loved it. They
enjoyed interacting with the Japanese people. I enjoyed working with first-term
Airmen. It was a very rewarding assignment.
TTO: What has been the
highlight of your final assignment?
Chief Woolridge: First of all, just being a part of
the AWACS community and the 552nd Air Control Wing. Most of the people in the
wing have been here one or two times before. It is a small community in the
command and control mission. I had never been a part of that mission. I was
hired specifically to bring an outside look into the 552nd. This mission and its
people are in my blood. In the three years I’ve been here I enjoyed every
moment of it. I’ve had successes and a couple of failures, but being able to
help people navigate through the different reasons why things don’t happen has
made this assignment worthwhile.
TTO: What advice would you
give to junior NCOs?
Chief Woolridge: First, be good at what we hired
you to do. Strive to be your best. Don’t strive to be better than the person on
your right or left. Secondly, know where you want to go. Figure out where you
want to be in the next five or 10 years. Be positive. Know that things aren’t always going to go as
you plan them. Make sure the people you are leading feel they are part of the
team. If you are a positive leader, have a goal and if you include the people
following you, they will charge a hill for you and do anything you want.
TTO: What will you miss the most?
Chief Woolridge: What kept me in 30 years has been
the people, and as I transition out, that is what I will miss the most, the
Airmen, non-commissioned officers and officers I worked with every day.