RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The 15th chief master sgt. of the Air Force visited Ramstein July 26 and shared his perspective as the service's former top enlisted member.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force No. 15 Rodney McKinley retired from active duty at the highest enlisted level of leadership in June 2009, but despite the transition to civilian life, the chief continues to take care of airmen. He spent his time at Ramstein visiting airmen and non-commissioned officers and even paid a visit to Ramstein's airman Leadership School.
McKinley had some words of advice for airmen on how to have a successful Air Force career.
"To be a good airman, you have to be the best you can be at your specific job that we trained you to do," he said. "It's important to think about your future, but right now, the job that you have needs to be the most important thing you do. So learn to do your job the best way you can, and listen to your supervisor."
To be truly successful, an airman must have a balanced life, continued the chief.
"Get your Community College of the Air Force degree, stay physically fit, and eat healthy," he said. "Have a well-rounded, balanced life, and if you do all the right things and treat others with the proper respect that they deserve, leadership is going to take care of you and make sure you move up and have a successful career."
Airmen in U.S. Air Forces in Europe have unique opportunities to experience things many Americans never get the opportunity to do. McKinley recommends that airmen take full advantage of their time in Europe.
"You have so many opportunities to get out and travel and build those great memories," he said. "So take advantage of being here in Europe and in our other theaters of operation, but remember that you still have to do your job and be the best airman you can be."
As a recent retiree, McKinley also talked about his transition to civilian life.
"I don't think I'll ever truly be a civilian, because I'm an airman at heart," said McKinley. "I was lucky enough to get hired by a great company that allows me to go out and do things to take care of airmen and our wounded warriors. I stay very involved with the Air Force and the wounded warrior program, and it's all fun. It's been a great transition."
That transition has enabled him to get a closer look at how the public views the military.
"I've had the opportunity to be involved with the public sector, while still being involved with the military," McKinley said. "And regardless of what their view on the wars may be, public support is tremendous for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coast guardsmen."
At some point, every airman must transition back to civilian status, and McKinley says that the Air Force gave him the tools he needed to be successful in his second career.
"There are many things we learn while serving in uniform that help us transition to the civilian sector," he said. "What has really helped me has been the discipline I developed as an airman. Civilian companies want to hire military people because they know we're going to be on time and do the things we're expected to do and we bring our work ethic with us."
His advice to airmen who are separating or retiring?
You need to make sure you're prepared for yourself and your family, so take advantage of the Transition Assistance Program," McKinley said. "Get your education all lined up, review your medical records and start working on resumes to make sure ready for that transition. But you don't want to start too early, because you're still an airman, and we still want you to do the job we pay you for. Continue to be the best airman you can be. There's a balance there. You have to make sure you're ready for that transition, but you still need to do the job we pay you to do."