by 2nd Lt. Meredith Hein
24th Air Force Public Affairs
1/31/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- "Leadership is a gift. It is given by those who follow."
This statement, given by Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, then the U.S. Air
Forces in Europe commander and now the Air Force Chief of Staff, to the
cadets of the United States Air Force Academy in 2011, puts into words
the philosophy Chief Master Sgt. Alfred Herring has been following
throughout his 30 year career in the Air Force.
After nine ranks and 13 assignments, 24th Air Force's second command
chief master sergeant is retiring. One thing has remained constant
throughout his time in the Air Force, however, and that is the
importance of people.
"People are our legacy," said Herring. "We need to invest in people.
That's what has the biggest impact for me. If I was able to invest in
one Airman and make a change for the better, then I feel like I've done
With social media and email taking the place of day-to-day
conversations, Herring says he made it point to go out to where Airmen
worked and speak to them on a personal level every day.
"Whether you're a supervisor of five or a supervisor of one, find
someone every day and have a conversation with them about anything that
will help them be great or help them be great in the Air Force," said
Herring. I challenge everyone to have face-to-face conversations. We
need analog leadership in this digital world."
Though many individuals, supervisors and others, made an impression on
Herring as an Airman, he cited two who impacted him as a leader.
"Sergeant Kathy Carlton taught me the basics about being an Airman,"
said Herring. "Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Sullens taught me how to be a
People, Herring noted, are also what made every one of his assignments great.
"People make a place, and when you leave, you don't miss an Air Force
institution or a location. You miss the people. And that is why I never
had a bad assignment in the Air Force," said Herring.
Enlisting in the Air Force in 1984, Herring has seen a lot of changes
since his time as an airman basic at Lackland Air Force Base. He noted
particularly that it is a much smaller Air Force than the one he
entered, but that the quality of the Airmen serving has only increased.
"When I joined in 1984, there were probably 700,000 Active Duty Airmen
alone. Now, there's 698,000 total force Airmen--Active Duty, Guard,
Reserve and civilian. I've seen that a quality force doesn't always come
in large numbers," said Herring. "We're continuing to do the same
mission and more, and do things more creatively."
Herring noted the benefits of knowing everyone else's job and how it benefits the efficiency of the Air Force mission.
"If every Airman in a shop--officer, enlisted and civilian--knew every
task and could do every job, I'd go back to that," he said. "There would
be no single points of failure that way, because everyone would be able
to help each other out and check each other."
Herring began his Air Force career as a "supply guy" in logistics, with a
background in materiel management. He moved on to become a group
superintendent and ultimately a command chief.
"My favorite job I've had has to be supply," said Herring. "But at the
end of the day, the job that gave me the greatest satisfaction was the
one that allowed me to influence and help people, and that was command
The greatest benefits of being a chief, Herring said, stem from talking
to people. "Every day, I get to talk to Airmen about their lives,
challenges, frustrations and interests. Every day."
Each of these interactions, he says, has contributed to his long and
oftentimes challenging journey, but Herring says he wouldn't change
"Changing any of those assignments or experiences would change where I
am now," Herring said. "I wouldn't change a thing about it."
Every assignment, job and rank, says Herring, has been a valuable
experience and contributed to who he is today. The challenges of
attaining senior noncommissioned officer ranks in particular have been
"Every rank has been a good rank. Thirty years ago, I was an airman
basic with no stripes. Now, I'm a chief. I wouldn't trade any of those
stripes. It's all been special," said Herring.
As an airman basic, Herring recalls the misery of the first day of Basic
Military Training, waiting at the airport in San Antonio, riding the
bus to Lackland Air Force Base and eating a meal of what he believed to
be cold chicken in the early hours of the morning.
He contrasts this time with the final day of BMT, as he walked down the bomb run on graduation day.
"The sense of accomplishment and pride that you accomplished something
greater than yourself--that was the best memory," he said.
Herring has carried this pride throughout his 30-year career, and hopes
to pass on some simple advice to this next generation of Airmen: "There
are no new lessons in leadership--only ones we've forgotten. The very
basic one is know your job and do your job. The rest will take care of