Shepherd retires from aircraft maintenance, ending 32-year career of military achievement

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Philip Speck
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
With 32 years of outstanding service to the 123rd Airlift Wing, Chief Master Sgt. Michael W. Shepherd was honorably retired from the U.S. Air Force during a ceremony Dec. 1 at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base.

More than a hundred friends, family members and fellow Guardsmen, both active and retired, attended the ceremony, which was punctuated by laughter and tears as the chief looked back on his career.

Capt. James Embry, an aircraft maintenance officer who has worked with Shepherd for the past 15 years, spoke at the event, praising him as a natural leader.

"He has the ability to rally the troops and lead them to a common goal greater than themselves," Embry said.

When he asked others to describe Shepherd's character, Embry received many telling responses: willingness to help; someone who takes care of his people; a father figure; a person of integrity; the ability to unite; a team player; down to earth; not afraid to make tough decisions; full of humility and respect.

"Your legacy here at the Kentucky Air National Guard will live on by all the lives you've touched or helped mentor throughout your career," Embry concluded. "Your career truly lives up to the Air Force core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do."

After graduating from Manual High School in Louisville in 1978, Shepherd was an aspiring mechanic. One day after passing the base while working at a local car dealership, he noticed a C-5 Galaxy parked on the tarmac. He stopped in during an open house a few weeks later and was asked if he would like to work on aircraft.

"The rest was history," Embry added.

Shepherd joined the Kentucky Air National Guard in 1980 as a traditional aircraft maintenance crew chief on the RF-4C Phantom II. He was hired full-time in 1983 and was later named Airman of the Year.

From 1985 to 1989, he was assigned to the Maintenance Operations Center within the 123rd Maintenance Group. In 1989, he was a key player in the wing's conversion from the RF-4C to C-130B Hercules aircraft as the Kentucky Air Guard transitioned its mission from photo reconnaissance to military airlift.

In 1991, Shepherd was named crew chief for a factory-fresh C-130H aircraft, tail no. 91-1238, which is widely considered to be one of the best in the fleet.

From 1995 to 2003, he filled the position of isochronal dock chief for the 123rd Aircraft Generation Squadron, and in 2001 he was again named Airman of the Year.

Shepherd's unit was activated following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he deployed to multiple locations across the globe in support of the Global War on Terror.

Shepherd led the 123rd AGS as flight chief, and the 123rd Aircraft Maintenenace Squadron as production superintendent, through numerous inspections and deployments from 2004 to 2008. In 2008, he was promoted to chief master sergeant and became the superintendent of the 123rd AMXS, deploying in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

"Along the way, his career was filled with -- well let's just say if he was a professional athlete, he would have a favorable stat sheet," Embry said.

Shepherd, who was presented with a Meritorious Service Medal and the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal during the ceremony, thanked his many friends and family members for their support through the years.

"Thanks to my family," Shepherd said as his voice strained with emotion. "You obviously can't have a career like I've had, and not have good support at home. And that's family and friends."

Under his leadership, the 123rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron successfully met 100 percent of the unit's taskings in support of the Global War on Terror, supporting over 10,000 sorties, 22,000 flying hours and more than 218,000 mission-capable hours.