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Chief Woolridge reflects on 30-year career

Chief Master Sgt. Avery Woolridge, 552nd Air Control Wing command chief master sergeant, welcomes returning members of the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron and 552nd Maintenance Group from a July 19 deployment to Southwest Asia. Chief Woolridge is retiring with 30 years of service. His retirement ceremony will take place Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. in Dock 2 of Hangar 230. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

Chief Master Sgt. Avery Woolridge, 552nd Air Control Wing command chief master sergeant, welcomes returning members of the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron and 552nd Maintenance Group from a July 19 deployment to Southwest Asia. Chief Woolridge is retiring with 30 years of service. His retirement ceremony will take place Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. in Dock 2 of Hangar 230. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

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.