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Senior enlisted boss talks mentorship, wellness & readness

Command Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Carpenter, senior enlisted advisor of the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Airlift Wing, Louisville, Ky.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

Command Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Carpenter, senior enlisted advisor of the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Airlift Wing, Louisville, Ky. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Command Chief Master Sgt. Curtis Carpenter, the voice of the 123d Airlift Wing's enlisted force, isn't afraid to speak plainly. For instance, he'll be the first to tell you he never seriously considered becoming command chief. Especially when there were such big shoes to fill with his predecessor - the now deceased and much revered Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Downs.

"My goal was to finish up in the communications arena, where I'd spent most of my career," he says.

Ironically, it was Chief Downs who had groomed the Wing's current top boss before illness took his life. The late Chief's mentorship, the support of his family and the endorsement of his command took him away from his initial "dream job" as the 123d Communications Flight Chief.

In his 35th year of service, Chief Carpenter enlisted in the Air Force when many of Kentucky's technical and master sergeants were in diapers. He's been around the block and around the world. He's worked in the Special Tactics community and even transferred for a short time to the Texas Air National Guard, moving when necessary for career advancement. He's deployed at nearly every rank and grade around the world. His personal style relies on a hands-on approach.

"Know your people," he counsels.
 
Over the years, he's prided himself on his willingness to get down in the trenches.

"I like to be involved with the people who I work with and who I train. I like to lead by example; to show them I am willing to do the job I ask them to do," he said.

In his current role as the senior enlisted advisor, his primary focus is on mentorship. Coming off active duty to enlist in the Kentucky Air National Guard in the early 1980s, he recalls having to slow down and get used to the way the guard worked.

Since 9/11, he's seen Kentucky Airmen step up to the challenge. He's never heard a complaint and a string of compliments about commonwealth Airmen who've deployed. However, as he seen his generation grow in stripes and gray hair, he's pushing to ensure a legacy.

"We're going through a transition right now. The older Airmen - the sergeants and officers who have been here for a long time - will be retiring in the next few years," he says. "We need to mentor the young Airmen in all areas to be able to step up."

The challenges the enlisted force faces are a constant concern for the chief, who has seen stressors and standards rise as deployments have increased. As demands intensify, he says its critical for Airmen to look out for one another.

"We need to communicate with our families and we need our Airmen to communicate with us. If they have any issues or problems, we need to address them. We have lots of resources available," he says.

The chief says he's concerned, on the eve of another deployment cycle, to hear about rising incidents of suicide among men and women in uniform. He's passing out suicide awareness cards through the chiefs and first sergeants. He's letting people know that chaplains are around more frequently. He's pushing the Yellow Ribbon program and hoping that members deploying this cycle will have a smoother transition home than any previous rotation.

The advantage the Guard has over its active duty counterparts is the sense of family he sees in the force, he said. Members need to take it a step further and look out for one another.

Chief Carpenter sees yet another change to Air Force fitness standards and believes there's a disconnect between the intent of the test and the perception among many members.

"The new standards are tighter and they honestly need to be. The idea we have to get across is that we're not trying to punish anyone. We're trying to make you healthy so when you deploy you don't have any problems," he said.

It's not a punishment. It's a necessary change that is designed to improve the wellness and readiness of Airmen, he insists.

He encourages members on orders to use the command-authorized hour to exercise. He's working with other members of the enlisted force to distribute new fitness and nutrition guides and supporting a new fitness program that will make different sporting activities more widespread and accessible.

Himself a reserve deputy sherriff for Jefferson County and a member in two bands - one an anti-drug combo called "Street Heat" - he said finding time to work out has to become part of people's lives.

"Anyone can do it. You have to put it in your schedule and make it a priority. If you take that time, it's really going to make all the difference," he said.